May 3, 2011
By Dan Namowitz
When police in Nashville, Tenn., arrested two California men and seized a load of marijuana valued at $70,000 at the John C. Tune Airport, they credited witnesses of the men’s suspicious activity with putting them onto the case.
As reported by a Nashville television station, police acted on the observations of airport witnesses, who reported seeing the men unload several duffel bags along with personal baggage from a single-engine Cessna on the evening of March 31. The men departed in a rental car.
Police brought a drug-sniffing dog to the airport for confirmation that drugs had been present. Detectives put the airplane under surveillance and arrested the two Petaluma, Calif., men when they returned to the aircraft. Seized along with the airplane were 17 pounds of drugs valued at $70,000 and $20,000 in cash. Investigation revealed that the same aircraft had been at the airport on March 8, according to the news report.
“This account strongly reinforces AOPA’s message that the front line in the battle against security threats and criminal activity involving a community airport is the airport community itself,” said Craig Spence, AOPA vice president of operations and international affairs.
Airport users, with their educated eye and frequent presence, are the best security measure, Spence said. AOPA’s Airport Watch program encourages members to participate in keeping their airports secure. The program, created in 2004, provides resources for education and action. Administered in cooperation with the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), Airport Watch offers a variety of ways that pilots can secure their airport and personal aircraft, be watchful for suspicious activity, and know how to notify law enforcement officials of observations requiring investigation.
Visit the website, take the online security course, or request a DVD that can be used to teach pilots and airport employees how to enhance airport security.
“Pilots can appreciate that an effective and successful Airport Watch program demonstrates general aviation pilots’ willingness to cooperate in airport security, making it less likely that burdensome security regulations will threaten our freedom to fly,” Spence said.
Dan Namowitz is an aviation writer and flight instructor. He has been a pilot since 1985 and an instructor since 1990.
AOPA expressed concern in a meeting with town officials from East Hampton, New York, that restrictions proposed to curb airport noise “overwhelmingly” generated by transient commercial flights would unfairly burden traditional airport users.
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