Transportation Security Administration officials conducted unauthorized screening of passengers and flight crew at FBOs at Nashville International Airport in December and January, and at Melbourne, Florida in January, according to NBAA and a letter received by GeneralAviationNews.com.
The screenings included checking “a number of pilots and passengers with wands and actual baggage searches,” NBAA vice president of safety, security and regulation Doug Carr stated in a Feb. 3 e-mail message to members.
Signature Flight Support confirmed the events at Nashville. A TSA spokesman told aviation newsletter AINalerts that inspectors “did badge verification of employees and pilots but not any hand-wanding of passengers.” The bag searches, he said, were to make “sure that nothing that poses a threat is in those bags.”
According to Carr, “We can confirm, based on discussions held with TSA, that this kind of screening was inappropriate and should not have happened. The local TSA officials were acting beyond the guidance provided by headquarters.”
A letter from Jerry Trachtman, a seasoned trial lawyer and pilot based at Melbourne, Florida told a similar story.
“A few months ago, the T-hangar tenants at MLB, where I keep my airplane (I have been in the same T-hangar for 25 years), were subjected to intense scrutiny by TSA. T-hangar tenants were frisked and our cars were searched, some people repeatedly in the same week,” he wrote. “Some TSA agents even opened cars without permission (and no warrant). All of the aircraft in the T-hangars are singles and light twins, no heavy metal. All of the T-hangar tenants are badged by the airport police, and presumably checked out before the photo badge is issued.”
The MLB pilots association asked for, and got, a meeting with TSA, Trachtman wrote. It was attended by the TSA director in charge at MLB as well as the region’s Assistant Federal Security Director of TSA, based in West Palm Beach.
“At the meeting, we were told that the intense scrutiny we experienced for a period of several weeks was ‘training’ for the TSA agents,” Trachtman wrote, commenting: “If TSA agents are being specifically trained to scrutinize the little guys in general aviation, this confirms that they just don’t get it, and have no clue what the real security threats are.” The TSA officers then apologized for the actions of some agents and told the pilot group that their goal is “world class customer service.”
“A contentious subject of discussion was bringing guns onto the airport,” Trachtman reported. “TSA’s stated position was that no firearms, weapons, or explosives are permitted anywhere on MLB property except for law enforcement officers and active military on official duty. One of our pilots is a champion skeet shooter, a medical doctor and one of the original Tuskegee Airmen, who travels to tournaments in his single engine airplane with his guns. He complained about the treatment he received from TSA agents.”
Some of the MLB pilots have concealed weapon permits, Trachtman pointed out, and all of them comply with the laws concerning carriage of guns. They are unloaded and properly stored in a firearm carrying case, he said.
“TSA was specifically asked if there is someone who can be given advance notice when a pilot travels with a gun. The answer was no. If TSA finds a gun, they will detain the pilot and call the airport police. Period. The airport chief of police was at our meeting, and stated that he is okay if the firearm is unloaded and properly stored. TSA stated they will still detain the pilot and call the airport police.”
Trachtman summed up the meeting in one word: “Unbelievable.”
GeneralAviationNews.com has been told that the TSA actions at Nashville and Melbourne were based on a TSA document called Playbook, which outlines TSA plans for random screenings at FBOs and hangars. Playbook is, apparently, a training exercise as the Melbourne pilots were told. NBAA raised concerns about Playbook before any of the events took place and at least one, scheduled for Bradley International Airport in Connecticut, was canceled, NBAA’s Carr said.