New Aircraft Present Security Challenge to Airports

Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) and Very Light Jets (VLJs) will challenge FAA and airports nationwide, according to House Aviation Subcommittee witnesses.

"FAA estimates that if two percent of airline passengers switch to VLJs, air traffic controllers will have to handle three times more take-offs and landings," said GAO's Gerald Dillingham. "If this sector expands as quickly as expected, FAA inspectors could face further workload challenges..and... controllers could face the challenge of further congested air space, especially at smaller airports." The DOT Inspector General expressed concern about the influx of new pilots using VLJs, calling for a new training standard.

Dillingham also cited UAVs and commercial space transportation as other emerging sectors that will add to FAA's workload and require additional expertise. The FAA created a new organization within FAA's Aircraft Certification Service tasked with developing rules to ensure that operation of UAVs does not compromise the safety and security of the NAS.

The number of UAVs has risen dramatically in the last several years beyond their former military use to search and rescue and border patrol. As of June 2006, FAA had issued 55 certificates to operate UAVs this year alone; last year the Agency issued 50 certificates. One concern is that errant UAVs used by terrorists could pose grave security risks to airports.

Perhaps FAA Associate Administrator for Aviation Safety Nick Sabatini described the current environment best, when he said the industry is experiencing the greatest change in the history of civil aviation. "Yet at the same time U.S. travelers are enjoying unprecedented safety," he said.

Sabatini admitted that safety and security management strategies implemented early in this decade have achieved their maximum effect. Indeed, analysis of the trend from 2001 through 2005 shows that the rate of reduction flattened. He said FAA must identify new strategies and is currently deploying and evaluating emerging technologies that will improve the situation. However, the General Accountability Office (GAO) and the Department of Transportation Inspector General criticized FAA's efforts, saying schedule delays and cost increases have hampered the program and reduced the number of airports for deployment.

Copyright: Airport Security Report -- 10/12/06

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