TSA Eyes Altered BizAv Security Plan

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Kerry Lynch

The Transportation Security Administration has spent the past several weeks discussing with industry leaders a series of potential new protocols for a Large Aircraft Security Program (LASP) and expects to begin rewriting the LASP proposal next week, John Sammon, TSA assistant administrator for transportation sector network management, told a congressional panel last week (BA, June 29/301).

During a hearing before the House transportation security and infrastructure protection subcommittee Wednesday, Sammon said he wasn't sure whether the new proposal would be a rewrite of the existing proposal or a new effort altogether, but that he was confident the end result would "seem reasonable."

TSA attorneys expect to determine shortly which direction would be best to take, he said, adding "It may be easier to start with a clean sheet of paper."

The new proposal, which is expected to include changes such as the elimination of a requirement for air marshals, will be the product of substantial discussions with association leaders and individual companies, he stressed. Sammon credited Gulfstream President Joe Lombardo and other company executives with helping guide the agency in several areas, including securing individual aircraft.

Sammon also pointed to a series of workshops held during the spring, which in some cases lasted up to eight hours. "These comment sessions have featured positive discussions focused on developing a security solution tailored to GA and have provided TSA with additional insight on potential alternative solutions that may be more feasible for industry to implement, while still maintaining an effective level of security," he said.

TSA has come under considerable fire for the LASP proposal that was released in October. The original proposal would have applied many of the security requirements already in place for commercial carriers to private aircraft weighing more than 12,500 pounds. The proposal drew some 7,000 comments, mostly in opposition, as well as the consternation of several members on Capitol Hill and the transportation security and infrastructure protection subcommittee in particular.

Subcommittee Chair Sheila Jackson-Lee (D-Texas) agreed to hold last week's hearing after subcommittee members had offered legislation to require TSA to include stakeholder input in any rulemaking on general aviation (BA, May 11/219). Jackson-Lee acknowledged the importance of GA to the economy and said, "While I think it is imperative that the federal government look at risks to address them, it is clear that this rulemaking process did not take into account some serious concerns raised by stakeholders."

'Overwhelming Disservice'

But Jackson-Lee also expressed her disappointment last week with a recent report from the Homeland Security Office of Inspector General which found that general aviation operations do not pose a "serious homeland security vulnerability" (BA, June 22/291). Jackson-Lee had requested the OIG report after a local Houston newscast aired a story that said reporters could access small general aviation airports with little to no problem and were able to walk up to aircraft with doors open and the auxiliary power units running.

The OIG findings do "an overwhelming disservice to the Department of Homeland Security," Jackson-Lee said, adding that to say general aviation only presents limited risk is irresponsible. "To make light of a civilian report is disrespectful," she said.

Jackson-Lee pressed Sammon on whether any new rulemaking would consider securing the perimeters of airports. Sammon responded that TSA has long recommended securing airport perimeters and incorporating other airport security measures, but said a lack of funding is a roadblock to any mandate.

Martha King, co-owner and co-chairman of King Schools, said airports and aircraft operators take a layered approach to security that often isn't transparent. She noted that she disables the steering on her aircraft, which renders it inoperable - even if left unlocked with the door open.

The GA community remains committed to working on new security protocols, King told the subcommittee. "I'm encouraged by reports of the progress made since February. It is regrettable that these types of open exchanges didn't occur prior to the release of the LASP."

King listed the proposed prohibited items provisions, air marshal requirements, third-party audit program and no-fly list as among the key concerns with the original LASP proposal. "What general aviation operators seek, and America needs, are measures that do not represent a needless sacrifice in liberty without benefit to society," King said.

"We have made good progress," agreed Mark Van Tine, president and chief executive of Jeppesen, who is chairman of the General Aviation Manufacturers Association. GA groups have discussed a framework with TSA that includes the establishment of a "trusted pilot" system that would require pilots to meet certain requirements before operating their aircraft under LASP, Van Tine said. Industry also has pursued a "sensible restricted items list that takes the place of the prohibited items list originally proposed by the TSA," he added.

Industry does not question that a potential threat exists, testified Robert Olislagers, executive director of Centennial Airport, but said, "I remain concerned with the overemphasis on 'the [overall] threat,' and the threat posed by general aviation aircraft." He added that he is also concerned about the associated costs of the proposed LASP, estimating that the program would cost Centennial $300,000 at a minimum and up to $1.3 million a year, depending on traffic volume.

Photo credit: Bombardier

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