need to get ahead of Washington
by Michael A. Hodges
To date, virtually all of the focus on security has been at the airline level, and unfortunately, most of it is more for "show" than for the actual protection of the flying public. Nevertheless, general aviation's time is coming soon. In fact, Congress has already begun to explore the perceived threat posed by general aviation when a teenager propelled it to the front page of most newspapers.
Once the FAA feels
it has made the traveling public feel better about airline travel, it
will move on to other areas, led by general aviation businesses and airports.
This should strike fear in the FBO world.
In order to keep the FAA - and the new Transportation Security Administration - from doing what they think is right, it is imperative that fixed base operators take a proactive approach to security and develop a plan that is acceptable to Washington.
As such, I would like to offer the 4-A Approach to GA Security, which suggests ways that FBOs can enhance general aviation security by implementing some basic good business practices.
"Know your customer" seems like a simple, basic principle, and it is. However, the more important issue is to be aware of who is not the customer. I cannot count the number of times that I have walked into FBOs across the country, looking in doors, around corners, walking down hallways, etc., and never been questioned. Granted, I may not have appeared to be a threat to the customer service reps and line personnel, but the reality is that I could have been. Make sure that all employees are constantly aware of what's going on around them, and are trained to ask questions if they see someone they don't know or recognize, or if something just does not "look right." Train them to confront the unusual individuals or situations in a professional and non-threatening way. That way, if they are a current or prospective customer, they will come away with the feeling that you are acting to protect them as well as the business.
Similarly, I've spent time walking around hangars and terminal buildings (even jumping the fence a time or two), and peeking into a few airplanes on the ramp, only to be faced with some confused and unconcerned looks from line technicians, and an occasional wave. The reason hangar and tiedown customers leave their aircraft in an FBO's hands is that they assume it is going to take care of it and make sure it is not compromised.
Account for everyone that accesses the ramp and the aircraft on it. Consider issuing identification cards to employees and based tenants. There is reasonably priced technology available today that allows an FBO to make its own ID badges on-site, as well as visitor badges for transient pilots and guests. As with all security, while this is largely for increased "perceived" surveillance, it might be seen as a welcome addition by customers. Not only does it make them feel like they're part of the solution, it also shows commitment to the situation.
Also, establish and promote a designated "security officer" for the company. Through this individual, develop a security manual, including written procedures for handling such things as identifying unusual individuals and situations, emergency procedures, phone threats, handling the media, and emergency contact numbers for local and federal authorities.
Controlling access to a facility is critical. Too many aviation businesses offer total access to their entire facility to any stranger off the street. Other than common customer reception areas such as the flight lounge, no one should have access to other areas of a business without first checking in.
When visiting airports around the country, it's common to be able to walk right into the maintenance hangar, a private office area, or even the fuel storage facilities with ease. Many of these facilities could be easily controlled with button-coded door locks or other access systems. Limit all access to the ramp and tiedown areas.
It's not unreasonable to ask anyone who accesses a ramp to sign in and out. Keep a log of people that access the ramp; then if something happens, there's a record. If someone doesn't pass through the FBO terminal, make sure line personnel check with everyone they come in contact with and that they've signed in.
Everyone knows that Authorized Personnel Only signs and locks keep the honest people honest, but do little to deter the person that's intent on committing a crime. However, having the right sign is more important than just having a sign. Knowing how to report a suspicious person, and to whom, is an important feature of ramp security. Perhaps signs on the inside of the fence make as much sense as on the outside, offering information such as whom to call and the phone number. In these days where cell phones are the norm instead of the exception, something as simple as this could assist other pilots to quickly get the word to appropriate FBO personnel or authorities.
Other signs could be equally effective. Ramp Monitored by Video Surveillance could be a productive deterrent, especially if accompanied by a few visible cameras. Or, All Persons Must Register with the FBO. The goal here is to get those intent on committing a crime to think twice about doing it.