TSA Watch: Stone, Alphabet Soup Meet

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In our last edition of AVweb's BizAVflash, we told you about the then-upcoming meeting between the Transportation Security Administration's acting head, David M. Stone, and the various organizations comprising the General Aviation Coalition. That meeting, held last Friday, was the latest in a series of more-or-less regular meetings between the security agency and industry. As such, neither its content nor results were earthshaking, but two items of interest to general and business aviation came from it. The first item has to do with a TSA plan to -- finally -- allow non-scheduled (i.e., general aviation) operations at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport (DCA). The second involves release of the long-awaited set of voluntary recommendations the TSA and industry groups assembled last year.

As one observer put it, the TSA is finally reacting to the political pressure placed upon it by Congress over the GA-at-DCA issue. At a public hearing earlier this year, members of the U.S. House of Representatives' Subcommittee on Aviation pretty much told the TSA to come up with a final GA-access plan at DCA or else. Such a plan has been bouncing around between the TSA, other agencies like the U.S. Secret Service and industry for more than two years. However, for lack of strong political support and an overwhelming amount of bureaucratic inertia, such a plan has never seen the light of day. It still hasn't, but Stone told the GA faithful at last week's meeting that people at the TSA are deep into negotiations with people in its parent agency, the Department of Homeland Security, on a final plan. Of course, when the plan will, indeed, see the light of day in anyone's guess. One thing's for sure: Its release won't be timed to gain the Bush administration any votes this November.

Also in the TSA's on-deck circle -- possibly to be made public as early as this week -- is a set of voluntary, standardized recommendations GA airport operators, tenants and users may refer to when considering general aviation security questions. The recommendations are the result of a months-long series of meetings last year among the TSA and industry groups, leading to formal presentation of a final document in October. According to TSA-watchers, the recommendations have been delayed because the final document pretty much ignored one of the TSA's fundamental premises: that each GA airport or landing facility fit into some kind of category it could use. Why the categories were necessary wasn't really clear, however. Some say they would be used as an enforcement tool; others say they would be used to help secure federal funding at the state and local levels to finance any security-based improvements. How the category issue will be resolved, whether the recommendations will remain voluntary and, of course, when the blasted things will be released are unanswered questions, both as of today and during last week's meeting. Watch this space.