AOPA Airport Watch really works

March 13, 2008

AOPA Airport Watch really works

By AOPA ePublishing staff

In a positive display that much has changed in general aviation security since the dark days of 9/11, two Chicago-area AOPA members independently contacted AOPA last week about a potential security concern.

Chuck and Patti Blatti, owners of Blatti Aviation, a Part 135 charter company based at Lewis University Airport; and Norman Grant, current owner of the AOPA 1997 Ultimate Arrow Sweepstake airplane, based at Clow International Airport, were both contacted by a network TV news crew. The crew said they needed a plane—charter or private—to fly them into O’Hare for the story and wanted a light single or twin. And that’s when the red flags went up.

“A light single or twin piston aircraft into O’Hare? At a peak rush hour? That’s just not where or how GA operates, and that’s what alarmed our members,” said AOPA President Phil Boyer. “I personally received inquiries about this from Chuck and Norm. Their concerns and the fact that they took action by letting someone know of their suspicions is further proof that the AOPA Airport Watch concept works.”

Discussions with the show’s producers indicate this was a straightforward, if unusual, request. The TV crew was working on a story about air traffic control. Nevertheless, the reaction by members serves as a good reminder to constantly think about security. A key tenet of general aviation security is that pilots know their passengers and what they’re carrying, in the same way a driver knows the people in the family car. So requests from strangers to go flying should be treated with a healthy dose of skepticism.

This is not the first time network news crews working on stories have set off general aviation’s alarm bells. In August 2004, two NBC News producers were detained when they tried to show how easy it could be for terrorists to charter an aircraft. The story did not pan out as expected when alert FBO personnel noticed that things didn’t seem right and contacted local and federal law enforcement officials.

“An ever-increasing number of news media are promoting the value of general aviation and the fun of learning to fly,” noted Boyer. “Not all reporters are out to play ‘gotcha.’ But the lesson here is clear—it is entirely appropriate to ask questions when something seems out of kilter. Aircraft and airport security is too important to leave to chance.”

The AOPA Airport Watch Program has numerous tips and training materials available on AOPA Online. And if a reporter ever contacts you, be sure to check out AOPA’s media training guide.

The bottom line is, no matter who asks you to take them flying, if you’re the least bit apprehensive, act on your suspicions. And remember the GA Security Hotline: 866/GA-SECURE (866/427-3287).

March 13, 2008