AOPA's letter regarding Pennsylvania's draft legislation concerning security plans for public airports

March 5, 2008

The Honorable Joseph F. Markosek
Majority Chair
Committee on Transportation
Pennsylvania House of Representatives
Harrisburg, PA 17120-3044

Re: Draft legislation concerning security plans for public airports

Dear Chairman Markosek:

The Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA) represents the general aviation interests of 415,000 pilots nationwide—including more than 13,600 in Pennsylvania—and I am writing to express our opposition to a proposal that would create a requirement for a two-lock system for securing aircraft at the state’s public airports.

Please be aware that the pilot community appreciates the vital importance of general aviation (GA) security and the critical role to be played by pilots and aircraft owners. To help you understand this issue more fully, we are pleased to provide the following overview of GA security and the steps taken by the GA community and the federal government regarding security at the nation’s GA airports.

The U.S. government has determined that GA is not a significant threat
Since the September 11 attacks, no segment of aviation has been under more scrutiny than general aviation. After grounding all aviation in September 2001, the federal government then incrementally restored flight operations after careful security review. A wide variety of federal agencies have specifically examined general aviation flight operations in all parts of the nation and have sanctioned continued GA flight under current regulations.

The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) has testified to Congress that in the emotional wake of the attacks, some security officials might have overstated the threat from GA. Additionally, in November 2004, the federal government recognized in a Government Accountability Office (GAO) report on general aviation security that “the small size, lack of fuel capacity, and minimal destructive power of most general aviation aircraft make them unattractive to terrorists and, thereby, reduce the possibility of threat associated with their misuse.”

The report found that most of the airports GAO visited had, on their own initiative, established a number of security enhancements, using either airport revenue or state or federal grant money to fund some of the enhancements. The report concludes that continued partnerships between the general aviation industry and the government, such as AOPA’s Airport Watch program, are vital to the long-term success of efforts to enhance security at the nation’s general aviation landing facilities.

Small airports are secure by their nature
A general aviation airport is a small neighborhood. Most people on the airport know each other; suspicious activities are noticed. Since September 11, pilots and others at the airport have stepped up their vigilance and report their suspicions to authorities. GA pilots are proactively improving security by participating in AOPA’s Airport Watch program (see below).

General aviation airports have taken voluntary steps to enhance security. An AOPA survey of airports across the nation found that every one had taken action appropriate to the facility, including the implementation of ID checks, improved fencing, stationing of law enforcement personnel on the field, etc.

The GA industry has voluntarily taken positive steps to enhance security
AOPA, in cooperation with the federal TSA, has implemented the Airport Watch program enlisting the help of the more than 650,000 general aviation pilots to watch for and report suspicious activities at the nation’s airports. Modeled after neighborhood watch programs, AOPA’s Airport Watch provides a national, toll-free hotline (866/GA-SECURE), staffed by the TSA’s Transportation Security Operations Center. Working with the TSA, AOPA has twice mailed Airport Watch information to the nation’s entire pilot community. Additionally, AOPA has partnered with officials in many states to mail state-specific Airport Watch materials to pilots and airport managers in those states, including one in Pennsylvania in 2005. We would be happy to work with Pennsylvania again on additional outreach if this would be of interest to you and the committee.

The Airport Watch program includes warning signs for airports, informational literature, and a training videotape to educate pilots and airport employees how to enhance the security of their aircraft and airports. AOPA has also asked its Airport Support Network volunteers at 2,000 airports across the country to ensure that their airport participates in this program. In a national survey, our members tell us that 71 percent of the airports they use participate in the Airport Watch program.

Hijackers are not likely to gain access to a GA aircraft
General aviation aircraft are used for personal and business transportation, just like an automobile. Unlike a commercial airline, the pilot knows the handful of passengers on his plane and what they are carrying. Personal vigilance is the most effective security.

GA aircraft are not easily stolen
An aircraft is a high-value item. Even a simple, 30-year-old aircraft can be worth $40,000 or more. Owners take reasonable precautions to protect that investment; a recent survey of AOPA members shows that 91 percent secure their aircraft from theft or unauthorized use. At the same time, these members are adamantly opposed to government mandates requiring them to do so.

Historically, in the years since 9/11, only about nine general aviation aircraft a year are stolen, and the number of GA aircraft stolen is down sharply since the general aviation community has taken steps to enhance security. From highs in the 40s in the early 1990s, only three aircraft were stolen in 2007, this out of a nationwide fleet of more than 220,000 registered GA aircraft.

On behalf of its members, AOPA opposes the imposition of a two-lock requirement as unnecessary government intrusion and goes far beyond the legitimate needs of general aviation security. We are also strongly opposed to any provision that would make failure to utilize two locks a criminal offense. Such a penalty would be a tremendous overreaction.

Thank you for your continuing interest in and support of general aviation. We look forward to working with you to keep Pennsylvania’s general aviation airports safe and secure. In the meantime, should you have any questions or require additional information, please do not hesitate to contact me at 301/695-2200.

Sincerely,

Greg Pecoraro
AOPA Vice President of Regional Affairs

March 5, 2008