"More Robust" Security For BizAv?

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Aviation security was back on the congressional agenda during a hearing earlier this month before the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation. The Jan. 17 hearing -- called to review recommendations of the 9/11 Commission -- featured one witness, Transportation Security Administration (TSA) Director Edmund S. "Kip" Hawley, who told senators his agency is "working on" a study of what else it can do to enhance general aviation security and that a "more robust" plan may be on the way. There were no specifics, but observers familiar with the TSA speculated the agency may plan some sort of extension of the so-called "Twelve-Five" rule -- which implements a number of requirements for unscheduled commercial operators of aircraft weighing more than 12,500 pounds, but less than approximately 103,000 pounds -- at least to fractional operators and, perhaps, to private operators of aircraft in that rule's weight range (e.g., bizjets). Hawley's appearance on Capitol Hill came a week ahead of a U.S. General Accountability Office (GAO) report noting progress in all forms of aviation security had been made but that "continued federal action is needed to further mitigate risks."

In discussing general and business aviation, the GAO primarily noted the funding problems any federal security program directed at GA would have and that competing priorities at the FAA and TSA for scarce dollars made any major federal program "unlikely." Still, the GAO reminded that its 2004 suggestion for the TSA to "develop and implement a plan to identify threats and vulnerabilities" GA faced had not been implemented. Yet. "We have noted in our work that the extent of general aviationís vulnerability to terrorist attack is difficult to determine," the GAO added. Presently, the TSA's only regulatory scheme for general aviation is the "Twelve-Five" program -- which, despite early teething pains, has been mostly successful. Instead of clamoring for new rules, the general and business aviation communities stepped into the TSA's void, establishing the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association's (AOPA's) "Airport Watch" program, along with the National Business Aircraft Association's (NBAA's) TSAAC, or TSA Access Certificate, a voluntary effort involving standardized security procedures and best practices for personnel, facilities, aircraft and in-flight operations. To date, of course, no GA aircraft has been used to commit a terrorist act. Similarly, no federal program has been established addressing, say, Ryder trucks.