Emergency Planner: Discussion with a former FBO turned security analyst

By John F. Infanger, Editorial Director

Ted Stranczek, president of Aircraftsmen & Associates of Highland Village, TX, formerly headed up the aviation division of AAR Corporation. Today, he provides security analyses for airports and airport-based businesses, as well as a series of aviation security guides. Following is an edited transcript of a recent discussion with AIRPORT BUSINESS

Stranczek, 62, has spent some 42 years in aviation. He began as a corporate pilot before working at Combs-Gates FBOs in Denver and Indianapolis, and then heading up the AAR center in Oklahoma City until 1990.

AIRPORT BUSINESS: How is it you got involved in security and emergency planning?

Stranczek: When I was running AAR, I became chairman of Aerospace America, and part of the responsibility for the airshow was to put together a group of people — the FAA at Will Rogers [World Airport], the Air National Guard, the airport itself, and myself as the FBO operator — and we put together and published the first airshow safety manual. In the next ten years we developed this plan to perfection. That got me started in the emergency planning and safety issues. When 9/11 happened, and people said we have to come up with better ways to make facilities safe, it was not a stretch for me to lay out what I thought was needed.

I also went to an executive protection school on security, and I took a look at how professional security organizations and specialists address security for travel executives and offices complexes. I got a helluva education on what security looks like from the law enforcement side of things.

AB: How do you view aviation security post-9/11?

Stranczek: Years ago, who would have thought of sending a lineman to a school and giving him a certificate for knowing how to handle, park, and tug airplanes? Twenty years ago that was unheard of; today, it’s a minimum requirement. Same with security. There really wasn’t a secure airport, per se. You could literally walk over gates and crawl under fences and it wasn’t a big deal. Today, you have to go back and look at it and say, wait a minute, the laissez-faire attitude we had is no longer acceptable.

There’s a gene that wasn’t present with the majority of people at airports. They assumed what they were doing was good enough. It’s a fact that our perception of security was very naïve.

If you ask a typical TSA guy to tell you about a general aviation airport, he doesn’t have a clue. Why? Because we’ve operated under the radar, we were deliberately low profile. In all honesty, it’s not a gigantic step for the operators to go to having a very secure environment. It’s not something that’s hundreds of thousands of dollars. Now, it may be ten or twenty thousand.

Many of the corporations with corporate hangars were way ahead of the airlines and, quite frankly, today are way ahead of the airlines in the executive protection posture they take, and the fact that they had a corporate hangar that was far more secure than the FBO was. So, you had a model in many cases at an FBO. From a TSA standpoint, the major corporations were far more secure on September 10th than any of the major airports or the airlines themselves. What they’re doing now is enhancing them with current technology — the ability to monitor via the Internet and having biometrics.

So now, the TSA is coming in and saying that everybody has to do something, but the problem is no one knows what that something is. It’s going to have to focus on personal identification, facility security, abso-lute identification and monitoring, and an attitude that says if something happens everybody gets involved.

AB: Expand on the concept of a law enforcement mindset.

Stranczek: When we dealt with the faa, we trusted it to know security. Faa does not know security; law enforcement knows security. So, it’s a two-edged sword. We are now dealing with policemen who don’t know our business. Before we were dealing with airmen who didn’t know security, in my opinion. Now we have law enforcement people telling us that your attitude about security is not strong enough, it’s not passionate enough. You’re not paying attention to the fundamentals of security, this gene of security awareness.

I think what the TSA is doing is highlighting the fact that we have to be more specific in what we’re doing, and in the process you’re going to be safer and more secure. Now, is that rewriting the regulations? I don’t think so. I think it’s enforcing them in a more realistic light.

If you’re in charge of security as an agency, you should have people that are skilled in that discipline. It really wasn’t taken with a passionate, security mentality that it needed.

AB: How do you foresee security unfolding for general aviation?

Stranczek: Right now they’re mandating certain security rules for air taxi operators and for operators of heavy transport category airplanes. There’s got to be a way for the fbo to be flexible enough to supply that security screening requirement, and how that’s going to be done will have to be a better technology on explosive detection than the present ones.

TSA needs to see this as another segment of aviation. [FBOs] offer another alternative and that is a knowledge of who their passengers are and the fact that they’re identifying every single passenger on a personal "I know" basis. So, their security checks are, quite frankly, better than the airlines are from that standpoint. But there is a heightened awareness...

AB: What about flight training?

Stranczek: There may have to be something written into the FARs. We talk about how to taxi an airplane and how to tie an airplane down and how we do our flight planning. Well, part of flight planning is security.

Maybe we make security training a part of a CFI requirement. Is that a difficult thing to do? Not really.

Security has to start from the first time we start training our people how to fly an airplane.

To contact Ted Stranczek regarding his comments or security manuals, call (972) 318-8992 or write tstranczek@aol.com.