The Transportation Security Administration‘s Large Aircraft Security Program (LASP) is not suited to general aviation aircraft and should not go forward without industry input, said the chairman of the House Committee on Homeland Security, which has jurisdiction over the TSA. Leaders of the House aviation subcommittee told the TSA on March 10 that they are not convinced that the proposed Large Aircraft Security Program is necessary. The TSA, itself, currently is analyzing more than 4,800 comments received on its LASP proposal.
In a March 2 letter to the TSA, Rep. Bennie G. Thompson of Mississippi called for the agency to delay implementation of the program and engage in discussion with Congress and aviation industry stakeholders. Several critical elements in the Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) regarding the LASP “appear to be problematic, unfeasible, or overly burdensome to industry,” Thompson wrote. “The Committee is also concerned that the formulation of the NPRM was not based on a threat and risk methodology process tailored to the general aviation environment.”
“Chairman Thompson understands the negative impact the LASP would have on general aviation,” said Andy Cebula, AOPA executive vice president for government affairs. “We hope the TSA will stop its plans for the program and address the grave concerns being expressed by the Committee on Homeland Security and so many others who have spoken out against LASP.”
At roughly the same time, nearly two dozen House Republicans warned TSA of “possible legal challenges or congressional obstacles” if the LASP is not overhauled, and many critics have called for a government/industry task force to rewrite the rules. “The proposal fails to recognize the inherent differences that exist between private and commercial aviation,” said AOPA President Craig Fuller, urging the TSA to work with industry representatives to “fill the sizeable information gaps.”
A few days later, during a March 10 roundtable discussion that included AOPA, leaders of the House aviation subcommittee told the TSA that the LASP proposal goes too far, by attempting to impose airline-style security regulations on general aviation aircraft. Others in attendance commented that the TSA has far more urgent concerns than general aviation, while still others said the TSA has failed to convince them that GA represents a terrorist threat.
TSA Assistant Administrator John Sammon told the group that general aviation is not regulated today, and that’s why airspace restrictions must be in place. He said that TSA doesn’t know who is in the airplane or what they are carrying. However, general aviation is regulated in a variety of ways and pilot identities are no secret, he was told. “The government knows exactly who I am and what I fly,” AOPA President Craig Fuller told Sammon. “They know where I live, and I have to get a medical every two years.”
“We had a very productive roundtable and a wide-ranging discussion,” said Rep. Jerry Costello (D-Ill.), chairman of the aviation subcommittee. “I believe this proposed rule is a solution in search of a problem and we will be monitoring it very closely. If the rule is formalized in its current state, we will seek legislative action.”
Following the meeting, Rep. Leonard Boswell (D-Iowa) told listeners that GA passengers also are known to pilots, and that general aviation, and the entire country could be seriously hurt by the proposal. “There is no doubt in my mind that the Large Aircraft Security Program as proposed by TSA would have devastating consequences for the GA community. This proposal is shortsighted and does not take into account the many uses of GA operations across the country,” Boswell said. “The pilot-in-command knows who is on the airplane and by no means would take anyone who may be inappropriate. This is a totally different situation from a pilot-in-command on a commercial flight, who may have several hundred passengers on board.
Rep. Vernon Ehlers (R-Mich.) put it even more strongly. “One of the reasons I ran for public office was that I have always fought against stupid rules. This is a prime example of a stupid rule,” Ehlers said. “Simply put, the threat does not warrant this level of regulation. One might remember that the TSA issued a similarly stupid rule a few years ago which required all passengers flying into and out of Regan National Airport in Washington, D.C., to sit in their seats 30 minutes prior to landing and 30 minutes after takeoff. I was able to lead the charge in Congress to get that useless rule overturned-it passed the House of Representatives by unanimous applause. Hopefully, the TSA will scrap this proposed rule and Congress will not have to once again get involved.”
Fuller also brought up the AOPA Airport Watch program, through which possible terrorist activities can be reported directly to appropriate law enforcement agencies. He pointed out that the small number of calls to that hotline indicates that GA is not a threat. In fact, he said, some of the calls have come from concerned pilots over what turned out to be news media crews attempting to breach security.
Responding, Sammon said that the rule is still a proposal and the agency is going through a process to get the right answer. He promised a series of industry working groups to determine minimum weight, prohibited items, and who should be screened against a watch list, none of which seemed very comforting to most roundtable participants.
The LASP proposal, as it stands, would require crewmember criminal record checks, matching of passenger manifests against TSA watch lists, third-party audits of each aircraft operator, observance of a long list of prohibited items, including most common tools, and new airport security measures.
Meanwhile, the TSA said it is categorizing those 4,800 public comments by topic before responding, but its officials admit the feedback has been overwhelmingly negative.
To read the entire Tompson letter: download.aopa.org/epilot/2009/090305tsa_thompson_letter.pdf