WASHINGTON, D.C. — The potential threat of retaliation for the execution of Osama Bin Laden is bringing heightened security efforts throughout the United States — and this includes aviation. This focus on security brought the subject of pilot licenses to the forefront at a May 10 Senate hearing, with elected officials especially worried about the security of worker identification at America’s water and air ports.
At a hearing by the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation, Congressman John Mica (R-Fla.) testified, urging the Senate and House to work together on the identity issue. He told senators that the FAA “has spent millions of dollars” on a new license program — that was required by Congress in 2004 — and the new card is still not acceptable to the Transportation Security Administration (TSA). He added that millions more dollars will have to be spent to get licenses that prove identity and cannot be faked. Mica, who chairs the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, declared the new licenses do not have a picture of the pilot and there are no machines that can read the card. On top of that, they can be counterfeited easily, he said.
He said the Senate and House must work together to get measures changed to prevent fraudulent identification cards. Mica wants pilot licenses to have the holder’s picture, a finger or thumb print, and to have imbedded security items that can be read by a machine.
Pilot licenses are a small part of the total security issue. A report released by the General Accountability Office (GAO) showed serious gaps in the way workers at the different ports — both air and water — are identified. Steve Lord, GAO director of security and justice, told senators that as GAO conducted its study of the worker ID program, their investigators were able to get into secure areas using fraudulent cards. Also, he said, about 27% of the workers at different ports have criminal backgrounds.
Because corporate aircraft travel to countries in various parts of the world, the National Business Aviation Association (NBAA) quickly passed on to its members the U.S. State Department’s alert to U.S. citizens in foreign countries issued immediately after Bin Laden’s death. NBAA also warned its members about the added security and stepped-up inspections put into place at U.S. commercial airports. No immediate changes have been seen — yet — for general aviation airports other than the TSA and the alphabet associations serving general aviation urging all pilots to be extra alert and to report anything unusual.