General Aviation Security

Perception: General aviation creates vulnerabilities in the aviation security system.

Reality: General aviation is a close-knit community that takes the security of its aircraft and airports very seriously.

The facts:

  • All FAA certificated pilots are continually vetted against existing terrorist watch lists. The FAA has the power to revoke the certificate of any person that it or the TSA deems a security threat.
  • A 2009 report released by the DHS Office of Inspector General concluded that the security threat posed by general aviation is “limited and mostly hypothetical,” The report, which addresses the Transportation Security Administration’s role in GA security, finds no significant vulnerabilities in GA operations in the United States. It also notes the GA community and TSA have taken effective steps to address security concerns.

General Aviation Airports

  • General aviation airports are like neighborhoods. At a general aviation airport, rows of homes are replaced with rows of airplanes — most no heavier than a Honda Civic. Neighbors know neighbors, and everyone does their part to ensure the security of their airplane as well as the security of their neighbor’s airplane.
  • Like drivers of a private automobiles, general aviation pilots know their passengers, who are most often family, friends or business associates.
  • TSA regulates all airports offering commercial airline service. All general aviation operators at those airports are required to comply with security measures laid out in the Airport Security Plan.
  • Aircraft operators who fly for hire and those who fly the largest general aviation aircraft must adhere to TSA regulations unique to their operation. Most of the same requirements imposed on the commercial carriers must be carried out by these operators regardless of where they operate.

International Borders and Security

  • Customs and Border Protection (CBP) requires all GA aircraft to submit notices of departure from and arrival into the U.S. and to submit crew and passenger information for watch list matching via the Electronic Advanced Passenger Information System (eAPIS).

The FAA has established an international notice to airmen (NOTAM) requiring that any U.S.-registered aircraft crossing the border file a flight plan, transmit (“squawk”) a discrete transponder code, and remain in two-way communication with air traffic control (ATC). Foreign-registered aircraft must follow these requirements as well as file a waiver with the TSA.

  • CBP also requires that any aircraft entering into the U.S. must land at the nearest available port of entry to clear customs and undergo a physical aircraft inspection (including scanning for nuclear material). If an aircraft overflies its expected port of entry, authorities will be notified.

Threat of aircraft as platform for terrorism.

  • Nuclear Facilities: Due to the small size and the low payload of the typical general aviation (GA) aircraft and the inherent design standards for nuclear facilities, the threat of this type of terrorist incident is practically nonexistent.
    • Numerous tests have been done showing that the size and performance limits of a light, GA aircraft could not cause damage to a nuclear facility upon impact. In fact, many experts agree that even with an aircraft similar to a Boeing 757, in all likelihood, the aircraft would be unable to penetrate the outer containment vessel.
  • Carriage of WMD into U.S.: In order to transport enough nuclear material to cause significant damage, the holding container would be very large and heavy (especially so that is doesn’t kill the pilot in flight). A typical general aviation aircraft does not have the payload capacity to carry such a container and supply enough fuel to make even a short international flight into the U.S undetected.

Is general aviation truly vulnerable?

National Security AreaGeneral aviation is a safe, secure, and important component of the United States transportation system. The use of a general aviation aircraft would likely be considered impractical and quickly dismissed by a terrorist. With the many layers of security and vigilance in place, it is unlikely that a terrorist would choose to use a private aircraft, especially with it small payload capacity. More popular alternatives that would not require special training, such as personal car, truck, RV, boat or rental vehicle, are each capable of carrying a larger payload, offer much less hassle, less reporting,  and communication requirements.