Pennsylvania Airports Target Security after Thefts

A series of thefts from small airplanes has officials looking to beef up security at some local regional airfields.

Security cameras are expected to be installed at Quakertown Airport this year, said John Mininger of the Bucks County Airport Authority.

The Pennridge Airport, meanwhile, has taken unspecified security steps, officials said, and more cameras could be set up at Doylestown Airport.

Mininger said he doesn't worry that someone will steal an airplane. Instead, he said, the cameras are aimed at deterring the type of thefts that have cost area airplane owners tens of thousands of dollars' worth of radios and other equipment in recent years.

"It's a concern of our tenants that we do everything reasonably possible to try to provide as much security for their aircraft as we can," he said.

Among the thefts in recent years:

In August 2004, thieves broke into five airplanes at Quakertown Airport. Police estimated the value of radio equipment stolen at $28,800, though an airport official estimated it cost much more.

In January 2006, a Global Positioning System valued at $9,000 and wingtips valued at $1,800 were reported stolen from Pennridge Airport off Ridge Road in East Rockhill Township.

In April 2006, GPS equipment, navigation equipment and radios valued at $30,000 were stolen from two planes at Pennridge Airport.

Mininger said several thousand dollars' worth of equipment was stolen in another theft from Quakertown Airport earlier this year.

While large-scale aviation operations have seen major security changes over the past five years, smaller airports such as the ones in Bucks County haven't been subjected to the same level of attention.

Darrin Kaysar, a spokesman for the federal Transportation Security Administration, said that's because officials don't believe the same level of risk applies to smaller airfields, classified as "general aviation" facilities.

"You have to look at the number of travelers, what's the impact," he said. "TSA does not believe that general aviation facilities and airports pose a significant and immediate threat."

According to a security brief by the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association, a general aviation advocacy group, small airfields are safer because people there know each other and can spot suspicious activity, and they host aircraft that are generally too small to be effective in attacking targets such as a nuclear power facility.

Mininger said security cameras planned for the Quakertown Airport, which is located in Milford Township, are as much about providing evidence after a theft as they are preventing security breaches.

The airport authority, which oversees the Quakertown and Doylestown airports, has yet to award bids for the new camera system, so it's unclear exactly how much it will cost. Mininger said the authority has a $25,000 grant from the state to help pay for the cameras at the Quakertown facility, though.

The new system will be "very similar to any other parking lot or storage facility where they have security," he said.

He said the authority has also considered adding security camera equipment to Doylestown Airport, though there's no grant money for that yet.

A woman who answered the phone at the Pennridge Airport said new security measures have also been taken there.

The woman declined to give her name or say what new steps are in place, saying, "I don't think that's the general public's need to know."



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