New Terror Advisory Targets GANew Terror Advisory Targets GA

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Agencies (Again) Warn Of Small-Plane Suicide Attacks...

A new advisory from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) says that terrorists have tried to use small aircraft for attacks abroad, may attempt to use them in the U.S., and that one explosives-laden small aircraft would have the destructive capacity of "a medium-sized truck bomb." The Transportation Security Administration says intelligence suggests al-Qaida has "a fixation with using explosive-laden small aircraft in attacks," and that security is currently so lax around GA -- especially charter operations -- that such a mission would be relatively easy to complete. But one unnamed staff member at the House Transportation Committee told United Press International (UPI): "There is an unwarranted fixation on the part of some of these security people with small planes" and "... a lot more willingness to restrict the movement of small planes than there is of large trucks." The advisory says that security agencies learned of planned (and presumably foiled) attacks using small aircraft against the U.S. Consulate in Karachi and against a U.S. warship in the Persian Gulf. The Washington Post last week reported that two U.S. officials said, "The details of the aerial assault plan, which was nearing fruition, came from the suspects themselves during interrogations by the Pakistani intelligence service." The account conflicts with a UPI report that "Pakistani officials said they knew of no such plot against the U.S. consulate in Karachi." Regardless, the DHS has dutifully repeated a list of security do's and don'ts for pilots and other airport personnel.

...Alphabets (Again) Respond...

The National Air Transportation Association (NATA) says the advisory's wording shows the DHS' profound lack of understanding of GA and charter operations, calling the verbiage a "breathtakingly reckless portrayal" of charter and GA operations. In a pointed letter to Undersecretary Asa Hutchinson, NATA President James Coyne says the advisory "contains contradictory, misleading and, in our opinion, factually incorrect statements regarding charter and general aviation operations." Coyne noted the DHS' assertion that all a terrorist needs is an "established line of credit" to get hold of an aircraft and the department's apparent belief that some charter operations allow customers to fly the plane themselves. Coyne wasn't alone in frustration. The General Aviation Manufacturers Association and AOPA pointed out the many security initiatives promoted and undertaken by GA since 9/11. AOPA's Warren Morningstar noted that the new advisory tells pilots and the GA community to do exactly what AOPA's Airport Watch program has been suggesting for quite some time. GAMA President Ed Bolen was substantially less agitated about the advisory. "It is our understanding the alert is not based on new information," he said in a news release. "Rather it is a reminder that, despite reduced threat levels and the conclusion of major military action in Iraq and Afghanistan, we need to remain vigilant." Heather Rosenker of the Transportation Security Administration seemed to echo that sentiment and told UPI, "Though there's no credible, specific threat in the United States, it's still important for [pilots] to know that these concerns are ongoing and not to let down their guard."

...While FBI Worries About Nuke Plants

The FBI has enlisted the aid of 18,000 state and local law personnel agencies to watch out for, among other things, airplanes flying too close to nuclear power plants. In this case (again), according to the Associated Press, the FBI doesn't have any specific threat in mind, it just wants to keep the local gumshoes on their toes. The FBI circular followed the release of new security rules by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission aimed at preventing terrorist attacks on nukes. Many of the protective measures are classified. However, just to be helpful, the FBI suggests that any nuclear plant official who thinks an airplane is flying too close should report the tail number to the FAA. The report doesn't elaborate on the practical benefits of such reporting in the case of an attack. Meanwhile, the FAA has cancelled a so-called "permanent TFR" around the home of the Air Force's B-2 bombers. The 10-nm-radius, 18,000-foot ceiling TFR around Whiteman Air Force Base was one of 16 established when the terrorism threat meter went to orange just before the war in Iraq. At the time, we were told the TFRs, which surround other bases, chemical weapons dumps and other inviting terrorism targets, were probably there to stay. But the Whiteman TFR was cancelled on Friday and AOPA wants the others dropped, too. "Today's cancellation is the first of many small steps it [the TSA] is going to take to get the National Airspace System back to normal," said AOPA President Phil Boyer. The cancellation returned life to normal for pilots using nearby Skyhaven (9K4) and Sedalia (DMO) Airports. Both were only a few miles from the edge of the TFR.