TSA Large Aircraft Security Program Attacked

Jan 12, 2009
Kerry Lynch

The Transportation Security Administration's controversial Large Aircraft Security Program (LASP) proposal came under fire as incomplete and a "waste of time" last week during two hearings that packed rooms and drew some 100 speakers who unanimously testified in opposition. General aviation industry executives were pleased by the attendance at the hearings, but warned that general aviation advocates must continue to express their concerns at three remaining hearings scheduled on the LASP proposal.

TSA scheduled the five hearings at the urging of a number of the general aviation associations, which feared that the proposal was so sweeping that it could fundamentally change large private aircraft operations (BA, Dec. 22/285). Released in October, the proposal would apply many of the security requirements already in place for commercial carriers to private aircraft weighing more than 12,500 pounds and would add new mandates, such as auditing (BA, Oct. 13/167).

The first two hearings - held Tuesday in White Plains, N.Y. and Thursday in Atlanta - attracted well more than 500 attendees and about 50 speakers at each venue.

The TSA panels varied in White Plains and Atlanta, but both panels for the most part listened to testimony without interjecting comment. The TSA panels promised to take the suggestions under consideration.

National Business Aviation Association President and CEO Ed Bolen helped kick off testimony in White Plains, saying, "It is important that we get this right. Overly broad or unnecessary regulations that do not take into account the unique attributes of business aviation will needlessly destroy companies and the jobs they create."

Bolen pushed for the creation of a government/industry Aviation Rulemaking Committee similar to those used to create the Part 91K fractional ownership regulations or to develop recommendations for a comprehensive rewrite of Part 135 and 125 regulations. "We believe that by working together, we can harden business aviation against attack without destroying it in the process," he said.

Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association Northeast Regional Representative Craig Dotlo expressed concerns that the proposal outsources an inherently government function and applies commercial standards to general aviation. The weight threshold also covers aircraft that are very small when compared with those involved in the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.

"AOPA is concerned with the weight threshold that is used for the basis of the regulations and provisions in the rule that outsource security oversight to a third-party auditor," Dotlo said. A chief concern for AOPA is the possibility that the rule could be expanded to all aircraft and airports in the future.

"While the government must take every reasonable precaution to protect the homeland, it is recognized by most experts that it is virtually impossible to protect an open democracy with 10,000 miles of borders against every conceivable attack on bridges, tunnels, airports, nuclear power plants, chemical facilities, dams, and the list goes on," said Dotlo, who managed the FBI's White Plains field office.

Wide Opposition

Bolen and Dotlo were among a number of aviation association representatives who spoke in opposition to the proposed regulations. Dozens of representatives from fixed-base operations, flight departments, fractional aircraft operators, business owners, owner pilots, corporate pilots and local aircraft owners and operators also spoke.

Several specific concerns were raised about the proposal, including requirements for all passengers to be checked against federal "watch" lists. "Our company has not carried a passenger that we didn't know in more than 40 years," said one New York-based business owner. Other concerns centered on the lengthy list of prohibited items, the mandate for biennial security audits by third parties and the requirement for armed federal air marshals aboard aircraft weighing more than 100,000 pounds. Many speakers pushed to increase the 12,500-pound threshold, with some suggesting that 100,000 pounds would be more appropriate.

The Atlanta hearing drew an equally - if not more - energized crowd voicing opposition, according to Doug Carr, vice president of safety and regulation for NBAA. In Atlanta, a substantial amount of discussion centered on the effects that the proposal would have on contractors - pilots, maintenance technicians and even management companies.

Carr stressed the fact that TSA released a proposal that had 40 or so unanswered questions, saying that it appears TSA published an incomplete rule. The weight threshold also was a chief topic of discussion in Atlanta, Carr noted, saying that the point was made that a Cessna CJ2 carries 4 percent of the fuel and has 4 percent of the mass of a Boeing 767.

The remaining LASP hearings are scheduled for Jan. 16 in Chicago, Jan. 23 in Burbank and Jan. 28 in Houston. (See related blog at AviationWeek.com/biz)

With reporting by Jim Swickard

Cessna Citation photo: Cessna

AVIATION WEEK Copyright 2008, The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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