November 30, 2011
By Dan Namowitz
AOPA is working on the national and local levels to prevent overly restrictive security measures at Colorado’s Grand Junction Regional Airport from damaging the airport’s general aviation businesses, and displacing other tenants.
Access-control problems imposed on the GA community at the commercial-service airport are the result of a Transportation Security Administration security policy that has created a “patchwork” of security measures being adopted from region to region, AOPA said in a letter to city officials.
The association has called for a unified effort to find a solution. Pilots are urged to attend a Dec. 7 meeting of the Grand Junction City Council at which the issue will be discussed.
“What began as a wildlife control fence funded by the FAA has morphed into a restrictive and unreasonable access-control system that is causing undue hardship not only on general aviation businesses located on the airport, but also on the public who wish to conduct business with those companies and individuals,” wrote Bill Dunn, AOPA vice president of airport advocacy, and Craig J. Spence, AOPA vice president of operations and international affairs, in a joint Nov. 28 letter to Tom LaCroix, chairman of the Grand Junction Regional Airport Authority.
“While a fence is one way of achieving compliance, there are many other less burdensome options that should have been explored, and can still be implemented that will achieve the same level of security and not bring commerce to a halt,” they wrote.
The letter refuted assertions made to tenants by airport officials—as reported to AOPA by members—that lease extensions and renewals would not be allowed because the FAA would prohibit them.
“That simply is not the case,” Dunn and Spence told LaCroix, citing the FAA policy set forth in the agency’s Airport Compliance Handbook stating that the FAA does not review leases or require an airport sponsor to seek reviews.
They called on airport officials, the TSA, and the FAA to work together to explore alternative measures that would allow GA to exist and prosper at Grand Junction.
“AOPA will, and has advocated strongly for a solution that meets the needs of the GA community” at Grand Junction, they wrote.
AOPA is also working with officials at the TSA’s headquarters in Washington, D.C., on the Grand Junction issue after AOPA staff members met last August with airport tenants, administration, and an airport consultant in an effort to mitigate the restrictive measures. A proposal that emerged from those meetings and discussions was modified by the consultant but rejected as a component of the airport’s security plan by the airport’s federal security director.
A widespread concern for GA
The problems faced by GA in Grand Junction reflect a national security policy dilemma. In 2008, AOPA warned of complications that could result from the implementation of Security Directive 1542-04-08F/G, cautioning that “a complicated patchwork of access control restrictions would emerge throughout the nation” as airports with commercial service worked individually to comply with its measures.
“Sadly, with the solution that has been implemented at Grand Junction we see our worst fears being realized,” they wrote.
Pilots are urged to attend the Grand Junction City Council meeting at City Hall on Wednesday, Dec. 7, at 7 p.m. in the city auditorium. Citizens’ comments on the airport issue are on the council meeting agenda.
“Members should attend the Dec. 7 meeting,” Dunn said. “We want members to understand that these types of restrictions can occur—and are occurring—at airports throughout the nation and are detrimental to the viability of general aviation.”
AOPA also strongly recommends that pilots flying to an airport that offers any type of airline service check the hours of operation, call the FBO for transient pilot security procedures, and plan ahead if an escort is needed after hours.
Dan Namowitz is an aviation writer and flight instructor. He has been a pilot since 1985 and an instructor since 1990.
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