TSA plan would cripple more than large aircraft operators

January 26, 2009

AOPA Airport Support Network volunteer Fred Fourcher AOPA Airport Support Network volunteer
Fred Fourcher. Photo courtesy of NBAA.

Even though the Transportation Security Administration’s (TSA’s) proposed Large Aircraft Security Program targets 300 airports and aircraft weighing more than 12,500 pounds, it could devastate airports and aircraft of all sizes. That, in turn, could cripple small communities that depend upon local airports to attract businesses, explained AOPA Airport Support Network volunteer Fred Fourcher during a Jan. 26 public hearing on the proposal in Burbank, Calif.

Fourcher further commented that the Large Aircraft Security Program, when combine with other TSA proposals, would hurt many vibrant general aviation airports.

“At my home base, the Orange County Airport, the TSA is proposing background checks and badges for the hundreds of GA pilots that use the facility,” said Fourcher, who is also president of the Orange County Pilots Association. “This along with the [Large Aircraft Security Program] would inflict a crushing burden on GA at the Orange County Airport and would accomplish little if anything from a security standpoint.”

Fourcher also spoke about Thomaston-Upson County Airport in Thomaston, Ga., which opened in 1994. According to the airport’s Web site, the joint city-county industrial development authority has attracted many businesses to the area primarily because airport access was essential to their business. The TSA proposal, Fourcher said, would hurt airports and communities such as Thomaston that depend on business aviation.

More than 200 pilots from California, Oregon, Nevada, and Arizona, backed Fourcher and other speakers’ comments that the TSA missed the mark on its proposal and needed to go back to the drawing board. Fourcher, on behalf of AOPA, requested that the TSA withdraw its proposal and create an advance notice of proposed rulemaking that would allow the agency and GA community to negotiate the program’s requirements.

“The entire hearing was emotionally charged, as speaker after speaker made passionate statements about the negative impacts this proposal would have on their airports and flight operations,” said Craig Spence, AOPA vice president of security. “Many voiced their concern about the unprecedented intrusion into GA and the continued erosion of their civil liberties.”

The proposal essentially would apply commercial air carrier standards to GA operations without providing any justification for setting the compliance requirement at aircraft weighing 12,500 pounds or more. Aircraft operators also would be forced to use and pay for third-party auditors to perform a government function

During the hearing, Capt. LaPonda Fitchpatrick, commanding officer at Van Nuys, Calif., told the TSA that the GA community proactively secures its airports. She then explained some of the security measures accomplished by the voluntary TSA-AOPA Airport Watch Program. Under the program, pilots and airport employees watch for and report suspicious activities and agree to keep their aircraft and hangars locked and secured at all times.