Making the case for GA Security

An unnecessary cost ... or business enabler?


A 19-year old fugitive from Camano Island, WA who was suspected in the theft of up to five general aviation aircraft, a boat, two cars, and at least 100 burglaries of private residences was arrested July 11th in the Bahamas. In August, a police chase at Dallas Love Field saw a suspect vehicle crash through a perimeter gate — ending near an active runway and forcing a temporary suspension of flight operations. In light of these two incidents, an article concerning the need for security at GA airports seems appropriate.

First, I want to go on record that I am not advocating the need for federal rules and/or regulations at GA airports, just the use of common sense guidelines that GA airport executives and managers can use to develop sustainable security plans that fit their own unique airport business models.

Colton Harris-Moore, the infamous teenager popularly known as the “The Barefoot Bandit”, focused his attention on small GA airports where he stole and flew (without formal flight training) at least three airplanes. One aircraft, a Cessna 400, was flown from Indiana to the Bahamas, a flight of more than 1,200 miles. That aircraft, a Cessna 182, a Cirrus SR22 worth in excess of $600,000, and a Cessna 400 were all parked at general aviation airports when they were stolen. One aircraft was parked in a locked hangar within a 12-foot fence when stolen.

Dallas Love Field, like all commercial airports, is governed by strict TSA rules when it comes to airport security. TSA rules cover all security operations, from the perimeter fence line to passenger screening and everything in between. Commercial airports like Love Field are small cities employing and servicing thousands of people on a daily basis and must balance regulated security with aviation operations.

Security professionals know that even the very best thought out security plans and programs will show some weakness over time. Incidents such as a gate crash and airport intrusion or a rash of aircraft thefts at GA airports become “Teaching Moments” for both commercial and GA airports.

Reasons for a Plan

There are two main reasons for having a good sustainable security plan and program at a GA airport. Foremost is the safety and security of airport employees, operators, tenants, and visitors. Second is the economic value of having and marketing an airport security plan/program.

GA airports are not required to comply with airport security regulations as outlined in 49 CFR PART 1542. There are more than 19,000 GA landing facilities nationwide; and more than 200,000 GA aircraft that represent some 75 percent of all air traffic. Except for some specific operations like charter operators and flight schools, there are few federal security rules or regulations covering GA airport operations. Currently, GA airport managers must depend on TSA Security Guidelines for General Aviation Airports (Information Publication A-001, May 2004). Consequently, the amount of physical security at GA airports is at the sole discretion of the airport operator, manager, and/or owner.

What GA airport executives and managers need to know is that there is a potential for someone either with ill intent or by accident to crash through their perimeter fence or to steal an aircraft, and that they need to make a determination through a risk and vulnerability assessment if their airport operation requires additional security measures to mitigate a particular risk and vulnerability.

The Business Case

To have a successful and sustainable GA airport operation, management must remain competitive with other airports that have the same relative proximity to city centers, businesses, and cultural attractions. To do this, management must differentiate their airport from the competition.

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