The Senate, Security And You

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Lott Proposes GA-Inclusive Meeting...

This is one meeting we won't want to miss. Sen. Trent Lott (R-Miss.), the Senate majority leader, wants a sit-down with aviation industry representatives -- and he doesn't just mean the always cash-starved airlines. "One of the things I want to do early next year is bring in, sort of, a representative cross-section from the aviation industry, and I mean the entire industry and say, 'OK, you know, what are your most serious problems and are there some things that Congress should consider doing that would be helpful,'" he told Reuters. We're not sure what stadium he plans to hold that meeting in (or what TFRs would be put in place for it) but for now we're just happy he asked. The rest is up to GA stakeholders to ensure the meeting doesn't go by the congressional wayside and that anyone who wants to be heard -- not just the best-financed and connected -- is heard. Airlines have received virtually all of Congress's attention with $15 billion in bailouts and another $1 billion in war-risk insurance to date and those big hands remain out. Maybe Sen. Lott understands that they weren't the only ones in aviation adversely affected by 9/11. We can hope.

...Stadium Bill Missed (Or Not)...

Meanwhile, all that's left is the president's signature to bring the Homeland Security Department into being. The massive bureaucracy will encompass a lot of functions that can affect GA but there is a limit to those powers. AOPA is taking credit for a clause in the bill that created the department. The specific clause requires consultation with the FAA on anything that might affect aviation safety or the use of airspace. The practical value of such an arrangement remains to be seen. And while all congressional eyes were on the Homeland Security Bill, at least one thing has momentarily slipped through the cracks that some might prefer would never resurface. The bill S. 2949, a.k.a. the Aviation Security Improvement Act, would have prohibited the government from issuing waivers to a current airspace restriction. It also would have required background checks on virtually all foreign flight students. The Senate approved this measure but it required a conference with the House to resolve differences. Since the House had already adjourned, the bill is now dead and will have to be re-offered at the beginning of the next session.

...Insecurity In Our Own Backyard

While the government stays busy attempting to protect us from foreign terrorists, a couple of incidents this week make us wonder who's protecting us from ourselves. In Boca Raton, Fla., Donald Currie, the airport manager, James Esco, an airport maintenance worker, and Andrew Novotak, the airport security contractor, have all been charged with unlawful discharge of a firearm after reports of semiautomatic gunfire at the airport, according to an Associated Press report.  According to the Sheriff's Office, more than 100 rounds were fired near the main runway in the early hours of Thursday. "At this time of heightened security and zero tolerance, that anyone would fire a weapon on airport grounds is bizarre," said Sheriff's Office spokesman Paul Miller. The airport has suspended Currie. Esco and Novatak have been fired. No flights were diverted. Unfortunately it doesn't end there. At Birmingham International Airport, in a scene reminiscent of a Steve McQueen movie, two cars ran through a gate, chased each other around for a few minutes and broke through another gate to escape. "They went pretty much in all directions all over the airfield," said airport spokeswoman Patti Howell. The airport was closed for 15 minutes, causing minor delays for three flights but no lasting delays for the drivers -- there have been no arrests.