WASHINGTON, D.C. — After security measures were established for commercial aviation, general aviation has been waiting for the other shoe to drop to see what might be planned for personal and business flights. It’s dropping.
The Department of Homeland Security is now talking with various aviation groups and elected officials to test the waters about proposals for changes that will affect every GA airplane and general aviation airport in the U.S. (GA flights entering the country are already subject to security measures).
A similar effort is going on with recreational boaters with the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) working with the Coast Guard in this area.
TSA officials say that boating and general aviation could be used by terrorists in a variety of ways. These range from smuggling in weapons or terrorists, carrying biological chemicals to disperse over wide areas, crashing into stadiums or public buildings while loaded with explosives, to any other nefarious purpose a terrorist’s mind can conjure up.
TSA is dividing general aviation into two parts: aircraft weighing more than 12,500 pounds and those below that weight. There are no plans to require screening of passengers before each flight on aircraft weighing more than 12,500 pounds as on commercial aircraft, but first-time passengers and crews would need to submit to terrorist watch-list checks. How this could be accomplished, by whom and at what cost, is not firmly established.
Security officials want to know who owns and flies aircraft below the 12,500 pound mark. Besides security checks on owners and pilots, TSA wants real-time information about the aircrafts’ positions at all times.
Also under consideration is possibly requiring propeller or ignition locks and requiring airports to conduct security assessments and identify vulnerabilities.
The Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA) and the National Business Aviation Association (NBAA) are among groups being contacted by TSA. The associations agree that security is essential and both are working to see that what develops will provide this security with the least burden on pilots, aircraft owners and airports — and will be workable.
TSA officials say there is no timetable for implementing new regulations. They expect the earliest time for action will be the fall of this year. A notice of proposed rulemaking will be the first step, with a time allowed for public comment. Then the final rules will be issued.
IN OTHER NEWS
In other news, Rep. Ben Chandler (D-Ky.) has introduced legislation to prod the FAA to move faster on safety issues. Chandler represents the district around Lexington where the Comair crash killed 49 persons in an accident last August.
The struggle between the FAA and air traffic controllers continues, with the issue getting attention from various members of the House of Representatives.
The House Committee on Science and Technology approved legislation aimed at bolstering FAA’s research and development. The act authorizes a range of R&D activities at the agency.
Charles Spence is GAN’s Washington, D.C., correspondent.