Terrorists are not likely to be interested in the small aircraft found at U.S. general aviation airports, most of which meet recommended security guidelines anyway, according to a report by the inspector general of the Department of Homeland Security published on June 18 in Homeland Security Today and on GovernmentExecutive.com. The report concluded that general aviation airfields do not represent any security vulnerability.
The DHS inspector general said that the national security threat posed by general aviation is “limited and mostly hypothetical” according to the report, titled “TSA’s Role in General Aviation Security.” The IG’s comments validate what the general aviation community has been saying for eight years.
“We determined that general aviation presents only limited and mostly hypothetical threats to security,” the report read. “We also determined that the steps general aviation airport owners and managers have taken to enhance security are positive and effective. Transportation Security Administration guidelines, communication forums, and alert mechanisms, coupled with voluntary measures taken by the owners and operators of aircraft and facilities, provide baseline security for aircraft based at general aviation sites.”
The TSA Office of Intelligence has not found any evidence of a terrorist threat to general aviation facilities nor has there been a history of security breaches at them, the report concluded, therefore the IG found no need for increased regulation of the facilities.
Other, earlier government reports already had found little interest in general aviation facilities from terrorists. In November 2004, the Government Accountability Office determined that “the small size, lack of fuel capacity, and minimal destructive power of most general aviation aircraft make them unattractive to terrorists, and thereby, reduce the possibility of threat associated with their misuse” in a report titled “General Aviation: Increased Federal Oversight Is Needed, but Continued Partnership with the Private Sector Is Critical to Long-Term Success.”
In January 2008, the Congressional Research Service (CRS) concluded that common general aviation aircraft were unable to carry conventional explosives for great distances because the aircraft were too light. In addition, the level of activity required to load contraband like explosives onboard a general aviation aircraft would be detected by airport operators or pilots, who have increased their surveillance of aircraft since 9/11, the CRS report said.
The DHS investigation was instigated by Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, D-Texas, who asked the IG to investigate after a Houston television station alleged “security breaches” occurred at three local airports when reporters were able to approach airfields or aircraft without identifying themselves. “We reviewed the allegations and determined that they were not compelling,” wrote Homeland Security IG Richard Skinner. The TV reporters were unaware of some passive security and monitoring measures the airports had taken, such as 24-hour video surveillance, locked or disabled planes, and controlled fuel access, Skinner pointed out. TSA guidelines and alerts “coupled with voluntary measures taken by owners and operators of aircraft and facilities, provide baseline security for aircraft based at general aviation sites,” Skinner wrote.
The IG’s staff visited a number of large and small, public and privately owned, general aviation facilities in metropolitan areas where people could be at risk in the event of a terrorist attack launched from the airports. The IG wrote that TSA has tailored its security strategy to the range of airfield environments and classes of aircraft and operators, rather than introducing overly broad regulations that are costly to implement. The agency also analyzes credible intelligence information to prioritize existing threats and identify practical, targeted measures to reduce risks in the aviation sector.
“Although [TSA’s Office of Intelligence] has identified potential threats, it has concluded that most [general aviation] aircraft are too light to inflict significant damage, and has not identified specific imminent threats from [general aviation] aircraft,” the IG stated.
“Significant regulation of the industry would require considerable federal funding,” Skinner added.
“The current status of [general aviation] operations does not present a serious homeland security vulnerability requiring TSA to increase regulatory oversight of the industry,” the IG concluded.