GUEST EDITORIAL By DAVE HOOK
Trying to foretell the future of general aviation security is a challenge as our community is at a crossroads. Over the coming months we will have to decide just how much regulated security we are willing to accept and how much voluntary security we are willing to uphold.
I offer some recent events as waypoints from which we can plot a projected course for what we can expect in 2011.
Waypoint 1: The United States is still at war with an enemy that has no particular national boundaries. Despite the ever-changing rhetoric on what our Armed Forces are doing overseas, the fact is that the United States of America and our allies are engaged in combat operations against a common enemy. In this year alone we have two acknowledged attempts at killing and injuring large numbers of Americans on our home soil. The first was back in June when Pakistani-born, naturalized-U.S. citizen Faisal Shahzad attempted to set off a car bomb in Times Square and then flee on a flight bound for Dubai. Observant vendors and prepared NYPD officers prevented the device from detonating. A similar attempted attack happened this year on Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving, during a Christmas tree lighting ceremony at Pioneer Square in Portland, Oregon. This time a Somalia-born, naturalized-U.S. citizen, Mohamed Osman Mohamud, attempted to detonate a similar vehicle bomb. The point here is that there is an on-going threat to us and our homeland within the United States.
Waypoint 2: Documented illegal uses of general aviation aircraft highlight security vulnerabilities. After the 9/11 attacks, the public became much more wary of unauthorized and illegal uses of aircraft. On Jan. 5, 2002, 15-year old Charles Bishop intentionally crashed a stolen Cessna 172 into the Bank of America Building in Tampa, Florida. While it is reported that young Bishop’s actions were inspired by the al-Qaeda attacks, the end result is that a junior aviator from among our ranks turned an aircraft into a weapon.
Earlier this year a man published his anti-government manifesto on the Internet and then flew his Piper Dakota into the Austin, Texas, offices of the Internal Revenue Service. Andrew Joseph Stack, a general aviation pilot of many years, crashed into the building Feb. 18 with the apparent intent of causing harm to the IRS agents and employees inside. “Joe” Stack was a general aviation insider — one of us — with the proper credentials to have access to his own airplane and hangar.
The infamous Barefoot Bandit, Colton Harris-Moore, was also in the news this year. For the past few years young Colton had been stealing aircraft until his arrest on Harbour Island, Bahamas, July 11. Only 19 years old and having never had an hour of flight instruction in his life, he managed to bypass what little security stood between him and his victims’ aircraft, start them up, and fly away. Hardly a hardened criminal or determined adversary to U.S. National Security, young Harris-Moore succeeded in focusing national attention on our community, and not the kind we like.
As a final example for Waypoint 2, I’d like to offer for consideration the recent arrests of 34 Brazilians in the United States — supposedly illegally — who were registered and approved for flight training in accordance with 49 CFR 1552 Subpart A. The question here is the effectiveness of the background investigations prior to the Transportation Security Administration’s approving their training. While not yet a firm fix for this waypoint, this example does beg the question of the effectiveness of government oversight.
Waypoint 3: Defending against the death of a thousand paper cuts. The federal government needs our help. There is a threat to the United States. There are vulnerabilities within general aviation. Political appointees and civil servants are busy developing ways to reduce the risks to aviation. Here are two recent examples.
During the winter of 2008-2009, the TSA published for public comment its Large Aircraft Security Program (LASP). With an historic 7,000-plus negative public comments submitted prior to the deadline, the proposal was recalled. Not that the intent at the heart of the proposal wasn’t well intentioned, but the unfunded burdens placed upon private and corporate aviation were perceived as both excessive and overly invasive. And remember, LASP wasn’t eliminated, only sent back to TSA for retooling. Expect to see this regulated security program proposal again soon…for further public comment.
In the winter of 2009-2010 the TSA published for public comment the Aircraft Repair Station Standard Security Program. This proposed program focused on both foreign and domestic aircraft repair stations that are certified by the FAA under Part 145. Again, this was a security program proposal that would be funded directly from the pockets of U.S. businesses. So as federal government involvement goes, there is both an interest and a concern in our aviation community.
Current Course: Hate to say it — but more of the same. This course is a little like a visit from Charles Dickens’ Ghost of Christmas-Yet-to-Come — shadows of what might be. These three fixes indicate that we must remain engaged. We must participate. We cannot afford to shrink away from opportunities to let our voices be heard. We may not always like the results, but, rest assured, it will be better than if we had said nothing.
Dave Hook, an expert on general aviation security, is president of Planehook Aviation Services, LLC in San Antonio, Texas.