TSA Watch: GA Threat, Vulnerability Assessments Not Conducted...

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In publicly releasing its long-awaited report on general aviation security (PDF), the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) last week said that the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) "and other federal agencies have not conducted an overall systematic assessment of threats to, or vulnerabilities of, general aviation to determine how to better prepare against terrorist threats." This, of course, is to no one's great surprise. While the GAO found that TSA had conducted vulnerability assessments at specific airports and intends to "implement a risk management approach to better assess threats and vulnerabilities of general aviation aircraft and airports," the agency had no specific milestone-oriented plan to do so and lacked the funding to inspect each of the 19,000 GA airports in the U.S. The FAA also came in for a dollop of criticism, with the GAO noting that AVweb's Favorite Aviation Agency had not "established written policies or procedures for reviewing and revalidating the continuing need for extended flight restrictions that limit access to airspace for indefinite periods of time and could negatively affect the general aviation industry."

In other words, no one in the federal government has a clue whether the proliferation of "temporary" flight restrictions (TFRs) -- many of which have become "permanent" -- are either useful and effective, or damaging to the GA industry. Of course, no one from the GAO asked us. The report is filled with small tidbits like these critical of the ways in which the TSA and the FAA have handled GA security, but it cuts both ways. For example, the GAO states that it found "limitations" in the TSA's oversight of charter aircraft operators subject to security regulations (the "Twelve-Five" and "Private Charter" programs) as well as with granting of waivers to operators for flights within security-restricted airspace. The GAO made four recommendations to Congress in its report; details on two of them were not made available to the public for security reasons but involve compliance with regulations on student pilots and certain general aviation aircraft plus the process for granting pilots waivers to enter restricted airspace. Two additional recommendations that were released to the public include the need for executing a risk-management approach to identify threats and vulnerabilities plus applying risk communication principles -- instead of vague, meaningless warnings -- to the GA industry in developing and transmitting security advisories and threat notifications.