Split docket: TSA legislation and user fees

As we move towards the national elections this November, it’s time to energize our general aviation community once again. There are two issues to examine and let our elected representatives in Washington know how we feel. One issue is the perfect storm: User fees. The second issue is an opportunity to have Congress send to the President’s desk the Air Travelers’ Bill of Rights.

I’m not going to belabor the user fee issue. It’s a no-brainer. If you increase the cost for flight operations by injecting a new cost per flight for turboprop and jet aircraft, then the number of flights goes down because fewer people will be able to afford the total cost. If the number of flights goes down, then fewer aviation goods and services are consumed. When consumption goes down, prices go up due to lost economies of scale and jobs are lost or go unfilled. As prices go up, even fewer flights are flown. The snake eats its tail.

User fees = bad results. Simple! Now let’s move on to the second issue.

Why should our GA Community get behind a piece of legislation that deals with the airlines and ticketed passengers? On the surface the Air Travelers’ Bill of Rights does not appear to involve general aviation. This bill deals with the administrative searches and other administrative authorities which the U.S. Transportation Security Administration (TSA) uses to get around the search without probable cause doctrine within the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, part of the U.S. Bill of Rights. This piece of the Constitution guarantees protections against unreasonable search and seizure based upon the concept of probable cause. Dealing specifically with the use of checkpoints, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that discretionary or general crime-fighting checkpoints are not allowed (City of Indianapolis v. Edmond, 531 U.S. 32 (2000).

I’m not trying to make this a legal brief. But I want to make sure that we’re all on the same flight plan. There is a legal basis for concern on the use of administrative searches at security checkpoints.

So how many of you out there have been asked by officers and inspectors of the TSA to provide for their inspection your airman and medical certificates in accordance with 14 CFR 61.3 and 49 CFR 1540.113? But how many of you who are not under a mandatory TSA security program like the Alien Flight Training Security Program or the 12-5 Security Program have been asked to present additional documents? Did you think they went too far? Did you provide them what they asked for because that’s what you thought a good American should do?

The Air Travelers’ Bill of Rights Act , known as S. 3302 in the Senate and H. 6449 in the House, is a legal Swiss Army Knife with 17 tools to legislate controls on how the TSA conducts its security checkpoint searches. Looking at this bill from desktop height, it deals with ticketed passenger security checkpoints; however, from 30,000 feet one sees that this legislation narrows the administrative authorities which have been used to skirt the probable cause doctrine of the Fourth Amendment. It is this narrowing of TSA’s administrative authority that is the benefit to general aviation.

It’s voting season. Let your members of Congress know what you think about user fees and the Air Traveler’s Bill of Rights.

Fly safe, and be secure!


Dave Hook, an expert on general aviation security, is president of Planehook Aviation Services, LLC in San Antonio, Texas.

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