The Next Phase: General aviation airports and businesses brace for tighter security

The Next Phase

General aviation airports and businesses brace for tighter security

By Jeff Price

July 2002

Jeff Price
About the Author
Jeff Price is a consultant with Denver-based Av i a t i o n Manage-ment C o n s u l t i n g Group. He has served in airport management at Jefferson County, Stapleton, and Denver Interna-tional Airports, and is a former member of the Colorado Aeronau-tics Board. He also teaches aviation management part time at the Metropolitan State College of Denver. He can be reached at jprice@aviationmanage-ment. com or (303) 792-2700.

AAAE Submits GA Recommendations
The American Association of Airport Executives in June delivered its recommendations for security at general aviation airports to John Magaw, head of the Transportation Security Adminis-tration. AAAE is calling for establishing four categories of GA airports for security purposes, based on runway length, location, and number of based aircraft.
Central to the association's plan is creation of a new source of dedicated federal funding for GA airports to use for implementing any mandated security regulations.
AAAE calls for preparation of a comprehensive security plan at all four classes of general aviation airports.

NATA Signs On Airport for Smart Card
The National Air Transpor-tation Association recently signed on the Stuart Airport (FL) to use its new SkyGuard employee identification program that will be used for some 500 employees of the airport and tenant companies.
SkyGuard is a biometric smart card that includes a color photo and biometrically imbedded fingerprint and is used for gaining access to secure airport areas.
Stuart is a general aviation facility north of West Palm Beach.
FlightSafety was the first company to sign on with SkyGuard, which was officially introduced earlier this year.

GA airports and airport businesses have the opportunity to take an ounce of prevention and hopefully hold off any debilitating and possibly unnecessary regulations.
Obstacles to regulating GA airports are significant. The Transporta-tion Security Administration already has its hands full with airline screening issues, tight Congressional deadlines, and hiring 40,000 people in a year. GA airports are not regulated specifically in the Code of Federal Regulations, and most experts agree that GA airports are not likely terrorist targets. The concern regarding general aviation is more about access to aircraft rather than protection of a specific GA facility or site.
We all know how quickly the government can add regulations when they want. They don't always ask for our permission, nor do they even need to have a good idea of how they're going to enforce them, fund them, or interpret them. They just need one ambitious senator - or worse, a devastating terrorist attack using general aviation aircraft.
"If they were to do any regulating of GA airports, they would have to come up with a scheme on how to do it for all of the facilities that are used by GA, from Chicago O'Hare down to a private grass strip," says Craig Williams, director of safety and security for the American Association of Airport Executives (AAAE).
Williams believes the FAA/TSA will initially stay focused on those areas they already control. "They're going for the low-hanging fruit, figuring out how to regulate airspace, pilots, and aircraft. You can cover a lot of bases doing that."
Without getting too deep into the technical aspects, the real threat of general aviation aircraft is mostly in the larger planes that can carry either a lot of fuel or haul a lot of explosives.

AAAE's proposal
What security levels can one expect at GA airports in the future? The answer is a moving target. The American Association of Airport Executives has been working on a set of recommendations by way of a special task force with other industry groups (see sidebar). Draft recommendations include ...
o Classifying GA airports into four categories, based on proximity to major population centers or security sensitive locations, such as nuclear sites and whether the airport has over 200 based aircraft. The higher airport security classifications, 1 and 2, theoretically will require higher security measures.
o Each airport will draft a security plan and may be required to install additional lighting on airport access points, fuel farms, and aircraft parking areas. Category 1 and 2 airports would require access control procedures and gate control systems, more signage, and installation of fencing or electronic monitoring. Questions still remain on who would review and approve these security plans, and what specifically they should include.
o Category 1 and 2 for GA airports would be required to conduct criminal history record checks for airport and airport business employees.
o Develop a system for communicating security sensitive information to GA airport managers.
o Develop a "smart card" type of pilot's license. This sort of recommendation has already been met with resistance in the pilot community and with logistical problems. The Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association has come up with its own alternatives.
o Requiring GA aircraft to be secured when not in use.
o Develop a program to assess new security technologies.
o Adding contract control towers for better safety and surveillance of the airfield.
The recommendations mirror those of some other organizations, but any final rulemaking will likely be after much debate and consideration. In addition to the recommendations, AAAE offers several suggestions for funding any new programs.

Past is prologue
The government solution to GA security has been to shut down facilities near sensitive sites and impose other airspace restrictions, crippling the businesses and airports involved. However, when the flight restrictions were lifted at GA airports near Washington D.C., it provided a glimpse of the government's idea of what constitutes a secure GA airport in a populated area.
Restrictions put in place included background checks for pilots and airport employees, specific arrival and departure procedures, mandatory flight plans, and ATC contact with Mode-C transponders. In all likelihood, any final rules will probably be a mix of industry recommendations and what's in place (or anticipated) at some commercial service airports.
Another consideration is the impact on general aviation businesses at commercial service airports. These businesses will probably see the most change with new Airport Tenant Security Agreements shifting liability to the business from the airport. Changes to escort procedures for commercial vehicles on ramps and potentially even security checkpoints on the Air Operations Area and screening at airport perimeter gates may also be a reality.

Interim steps
There are many proactive and low or even no cost measures an airport and its businesses can do to prevent a terrorist attack and maybe even get the U.S. Senate to change its opinion of GA airport security.
o Every airport should conduct a security site assessment, with an eye towards deterring or preventing unauthorized access to an aircraft. It's unlikely that a terrorist attack would be directed at the infrastructure of a GA airport, so don't spend a lot of time worrying about stand-off distances and site hardening.
o The simplest (and cheapest) measure is communications. Besides posting emergency numbers around the airport, go the extra step and designate a security point-of-contact for each airport business. Make sure airport administration has this information on file with numbers to reach the person (or someone who can take action) 24/7. The security contact serves as the central dissemination point and oversees businesses' security plans and measures.
o Airport managers can establish a system of reporting routine security information to airport businesses via weekly emails, faxes, or monthly meetings. The same distribution lists can be used in emergency situations, as the communication pathways are already established.
o Managers should check compatibility of their airport radio equipment with local law enforcement. If the equipment is not compatible, then other procedures need to be created so the two groups can communicate in an emergency.
o Airport operators should establish a system for contacting the appropriate law enforcement agencies, and ensure that the system works. Don't settle for just "calling 911" and think it's going to get help right away. Don't assume police dispatchers and responding officers automatically know what they're supposed to do. Talk to the local law enforcement agency, along with the local FAA/TSA and FBI representatives. Get their off-duty phone numbers and establish a system of reporting suspicious behavior and direct threats.
o Establish procedures with the control tower (or the nearest FAA air traffic control facility) to notify them immediately in the case of an armed takeover of an aircraft on the ground or the theft of a large aircraft. Again, don't assume the police or even the FAA local offices have quick access to this information.
o Leaving the lights on and locking up are still the two best ways to deter intruders. Ensure that lights covering aircraft parking areas and airport access gates are replaced quickly when they burn out and that fuel trucks, snow plows, airport fire trucks, and operations/maintenance vehicles are secured when not in use.
o The best way to tell if something is out of the ordinary is to know what is normal. Teach all airport and airport business employees to look for things that seem unusual to them and have a reporting method in place.
o Review or create emergency contingency plans for bomb threats, building evacuation, armed takeover of an aircraft, threatening mail - both regular mail and email - and suspicious vehicles and packages.
o Airport businesses, especially charters, flight schools, and FBOs can establish positive identification procedures to ensure people getting into a GA aircraft are the ones that are supposed to be flying the plane.
o Airport managers can implement into their minimum standards and rules and regulations certain security requirements such as mandatory monitoring of personnel on leasehold areas and ensuring airport access gates are secured.
o For GA facilities on commercial service airports, the best defense against over-regulation is a good offense. Make sure employees are the models of airport security when it comes to complying with the rules already in place. The more problems an airport security manager has with a certain tenant, the more likely regulations and even more stringent control of current regulations will occur.