“We don’t know who you are.”
That was the short answer from Greg Mayes, chief of aviation security at the Secret Service, when asked what possible threat his agency sees from general aviation.
“With the airlines, we’ve vetted all the pilots, we vet all the passengers, we know everything that goes on board right down to the water,” he claimed.
Business and recreational pilots have not been vetted, so are unknown to the various security agencies comprising Homeland Security, he said. What is unknown is seen as a potential threat.
That succinct explanation is the first we’ve heard that is understandable, at least from a security perspective; and it tells us something important: We can begin to address this problem, now that we know what it is.
Mayes was speaking to a group of pilots at the Easton, Maryland, airport. He was among several speakers whose main purpose was to explain the General Aviation Airport Program and how it applied to Inauguration Day. (Easton is a “divert airport” for “incident aircraft” penetrating the large Air Defense Identification Zone surrounding Washington, D.C.) Speakers from U.S. Customs, the FAA, TSA and the North American Aerospace Defense Command also were present.
Mayes explained that it is relatively easy to feel confident about airline operations and security at major airports. Airliners comprise only about 2% of the U.S. aircraft fleet; airline pilots are a comparably small number among licensed pilots; and very few airports serve airlines. Furthermore, most of those airports have sophisticated security measures in place.
On the other hand, the number of GA airports is large and their security tends to be far less strict than at major airports; few GA pilots have been vetted by the security services; and the capabilities of GA airplanes are unfamiliar to most security people, although not to Mayes, who flies a Cessna “very carefully and strictly by the book.” Busting the ADIZ would be more than a little embarrassing for him, he said.
All of the speakers were at great pains to assure the audience that general aviation is not the enemy — that they do not see GA as a threat but, rather, as an unknown.
It appears, then, that general aviation interests need to familiarize the security agencies with GA in all its aspects, and figure out how they can know us and feel secure with us.
That is no small task, but one that we should be able to accomplish.