AOPA fights badges, background checks at GA field

November 15, 2007

AOPA fights badges, background checks at GA field

By Kate Opalewski

Pilots based at Republic Airport in Farmingdale, N.Y., could be subjected to a background check, made to use a special security badge to access the airport, and required to pay $70 for the privilege. Transient pilots landing at this airport would be questioned and escorted upon arrival.

AOPA is opposing the plan implemented by the state of New York because there are alternatives to background checks that are far less costly and leverage existing efforts by the federal government.

"This is a classic example of why one size doesn't fit all when it comes to aviation security," said Greg Pecoraro, AOPA vice president of regional affairs. "Restricting airport access in this way just doesn't make sense for general aviation—especially because there are other ways to enhance security without penalizing pilots, employees, and other airport users."

Even the United States' busiest general aviation airport, Van Nuys in Southern California, which averages about 400,000 takeoffs and landings annually, doesn't require badges or background checks for airport users.

An alternative to airline-style measures is the AOPA Airport Watch Program, which was developed in partnership with TSA and uses more than 650,000 pilots as eyes and ears for observing and reporting suspicious activity.

During a Nov. 7 meeting at Republic Airport, Pecoraro told airport officials and National Air Transportation Association Compliance Services that members are apprehensive about who will have access to the background check information and about the $70 badge fee. Now AOPA is taking its concerns to the governor and state transportation commissioner.

In the meantime, AOPA has urged airport officials to be cautious and limit access to background check data and to extend the deadline to sign up for the badge. Under the current timetable, the $70 fee will be waived for those who sign up before Nov. 15, but many airport users aren't yet aware of the plan. Airport officials plan to have the system in place by Dec. 31.

November 15, 2007