At a public hearing held in a packed room at Westchester County Airport, Jan. 6, TSA representatives were told that their Large Aircraft Security Program (LASP) plan fails to recognize the unique needs and challenges of business aviation operations and that, if left unchanged, it would have “unintended and destructive consequences that threaten the well-being of businesses across the U.S. that rely on their airplanes for survival,” as NBAA President Ed Bolen stated it.
The overflow crowd of at least 250 business aircraft operators and others interested in business aviation included many who were eager to comment on the agency’s proposal. After Bolen called for establishment of an aviation rulemaking committee to help the TSA turn the proposal into a workable regulation, most of the speakers who followed him supported that idea.
Erik Jensen, acting general manager of the TSA’s general aviation division, told the crowd that the agency’s goal is “workable security.” However, the LASP proposal essentially forces airline security regulations on business aviation, which all speakers said is not necessary. Operators of airports handling aircraft heavier than 12,500 pounds expressed their own dismay at the proposal’s requirement for costly screening facilities, pointing out the high cost and inconvenience to travelers at, literally, thousands of small airports.
Bolen reminded the TSA of business aviation’s demonstrated commitment to security. “In the years following the 9/11 attacks,” he said, “The industry has called for security enhancements, including an Airport Watch program, monitored aircraft transactions, background checks and tamper-proof licenses for pilots. Clearly, when it comes to effective security enhancements, we have led, not followed, the government.” According to Bolen, the security approach outlined in the agency’s LASP proposal would be unduly burdensome without providing a clear security benefit. Other speakers were unanimous in stating that the LASP proposal is unworkable, over-reaching, unnecessary and intrusive.
The TSA infers that its plan applies to large aircraft, when in fact, “The entire cabin of a 12,500-pound airplane – from windshield to back bulkhead – could comfortably fit sideways into the planes used in the 9/11 attacks,” Bolen said. “Make no mistake about it: The ‘large aircraft’ security program will apply to some very small aircraft, and the weight threshold must be substantially changed.”
The proposal includes a list of more than 80 “prohibited items,” some of which may be routinely carried aboard business aircraft because they are central to business needs, speakers pointed out. There also were strong objections to a requirement for owners of some airplanes to develop procedures for carrying federal air marshals when told to do so by the TSA. “It’s hard to understand why our Members would ever need a law enforcement officer aboard their plane, because the company owns the plane and knows everyone aboard,” Bolen reminded agency officials. “Knowing everything there is to know about [your passengers] changes everything, and the proposal doesn’t seem to recognize that fact.”
The proposal would establish a broad requirement for aircraft owners to pay for external, third-party audits. “The specifics of the audits are not well-articulated,” Bolen said. “But one thing we do know is that outsourcing security is contrary to our national philosophy for use of federal screeners, and in the development of Secure Flight.” Jensen replied that the TSA is looking at the possibility of a master passenger list for each corporate operator rather than requiring every individual flight manifest to be vetted by a third-party auditor.
“In determining a final rule, we believe it is important that we get this right,” Bolen summarized. “We need to create an aviation rulemaking committee, which is a consistently proven method for addressing controversial proposals for our industry, because it opens up a real dialogue for creating effective, yet workable policies. Business aviation is an important industry, security is an important objective, and we deserve that kind of dialogue.”