Chertoff wants more ‘risk based’ security on GA

November 6, 2007

Update: See " CBP extends comment period on customs proposal."

Chertoff wants more ‘risk based’ security on GA

By Warren D. Morningstar

Members of Congress question customs proposal

By AOPA ePublishing


The Idaho and Montana congressional delegations as well as a senator from Alaska and a congressman from New Mexico are telling Customs and Border Protection (CBP) what has become an overwhelming consensus from pilots: CBP's proposed requirement that pilots submit passenger manifests over the Internet just isn't workable in the real world.

Both Idaho and Montana share a border with Canada, of course, and pilots in those states have a lot of experience flying between the two countries.

"The rule assumes that pilots will have access to a computer and Internet access to make the electronic transmission. However, this is not always the case," wrote Sens. Max Bacus, Jon Tester, and Rep. Denny Rehberg to CBP Commissioner Ralph Basham. "Many general aviation pilots in Montana who travel back and forth to Canada often operate from rural or even remote areas with very limited phone service."

Noting that pilots can currently notify customs via radio, telephone, or relay through air traffic control, the Montana senators said, "Given the unique nature of the general aviation industry, it would seem logical that these alternative methods continue to be available for transmitting the required information to CBP."

Idaho Sens. Larry Craig along with Mike Crapo, and Reps. Mike Simpson and Bill Sali wrote Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff that "certain requirements included in this proposed rule have generated a significant amount of concern within the general aviation community.... Many pilots in the state of Idaho fly to and from isolated areas of Canada that do not provide Internet access."

Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski said that while she supports the efforts of the Department of Homeland Security and CBP to enhance aviation security, the proposal has generated great concern within the GA community in Alaska.

"Currently, private pilots are able to report required arrival information to CBP via radio, telephone or through the Federal Aviation Administration flight notification system. The proposed rule is a drastic change from this long standing procedure," she wrote to Chertoff. "Accordingly, I believe that Alaskan pilots should be allowed more time to examine the new rule."

While the members of Congress from all three states requested that CBP extend the comment period on the proposal, CBP denied an extension on Oct. 31.

That's why it is critical that AOPA members who fly internationally comment on the proposed rule now, before the Nov. 19 deadline. Learn more about the issue and submit your comments now through AOPA's U.S. Customs and Border Protection NPRM Member Action Center.

New Mexico Rep. Steve Pearce wrote Transportation Secretary Mary Peters: "As someone who has flown from Mexico to my hometown of Hobbs, N.M., on dozens of instances can tell you how radio strength and lack of manpower could cause thousands of travelers to be grounded in foreign countries."

One size doesn’t fit all when it comes to aviation security. And Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff seemed to acknowledge that during a speech to the NATA Business Aviation Roundtable on Nov. 5 in Washington, D.C. While he argued for greater security controls on general aviation, his focus was on “jets” and larger aircraft.

“But Secretary Chertoff did not draw an explicit distinction between small piston-powered aircraft and larger aircraft, and we believe that he should,” said AOPA President Phil Boyer. “AOPA has always argued that security measures taken should be predicated on the actual risk, and our small aircraft present minimal risk.”

Chertoff acknowledged that he supports a “risk-based” approach to security that does not unduly burden general aviation or impede the “fluidity” of the industry. And he praised the cooperation between the GA industry and federal security agencies. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has called AOPA’s Airport Watch Program the “blueprint” for cooperative efforts. But at the end of the day, his concern for security would trump any business arguments.

While DHS doesn’t want to harm business, it remains concerned that terrorists could use GA aircraft to enter the country or smuggle in a weapon of mass destruction. And the biggest concern is over large business jets. From the department’s point of view, GA security needs to catch up with airline security. “The front door is locked, but the back door is wide open,” said Chertoff, referring to what he believes is a security discrepancy between the airlines and large GA aircraft.

“We will continue to oppose any regulations that place restrictions on GA that outweigh the actual security threat,” Boyer said. “One size doesn’t—and shouldn’t—fit all.”

To address what it sees as security vulnerabilities, the DHS is initiating a long-term strategy to screen cargo and identify and vet passengers and crew on GA aircraft intending to depart or enter U.S. airspace. This would happen before they leave the ground. While Chertoff didn’t offer any new proposals during his Nov. 5 speech, he did mention some security measures already in the pipeline.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) recently issued proposed rules that would require pilots to file a passenger manifest over the Internet before any flight that crosses a U.S. border. AOPA has objected to the proposal, pointing out that Internet access isn’t universally available to pilots, even in the United States, and requesting alternate means of communicating with the security agencies. AOPA has also requested more time for pilots to comment on the proposal, a request supported by several members of Congress.

A computerized program, Automatic Detection and Processing Terminal (ADAPT), will identify suspicious aircraft worldwide and provide real-time alerts to air traffic controllers and CBP agents.

The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) is starting the Large Aircraft Security Program (LASP) to work with GA operators to create security programs similar to airline programs for aircraft of the same size.

TSA is also working with a large FBO chain with international locations to develop a pilot program where the FBOs voluntarily provide additional security screening for GA flights departing for the United States.

Finally, the DHS wants to develop a “noninvasive” means to scan aircraft for nuclear material before departing for U.S. airspace.

November 6, 2007