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Issue Brief: Aviation SecurityIssue Brief: Aviation Security

On Capitol Hill

Issue Brief

Aviation Security

January 2005

Government Actions

The federal government has taken an active role in ensuring the security of general aviation with a multi-layered system of security procedures to identify and thwart an act of terror before it occurs. A few measures taken by the federal government include:


  • Advanced screening of pilot databases. Based on TSA information as well as that provided by other security agencies, information in the FAA's databases of current pilots and student pilots is reviewed for links to known or potential terrorists.
  • Photo pilot certificate. In December 2004, the National Intelligence Reform Act of 2004 mandated the development of an improved pilot certificate that includes a photograph of the pilot and biometric information within one year. Previously, the FAA had put in place the following advancements that will remain in place until the new pilot certificate is developed:
    • October 2002 - The FAA puts in place a requirement that a pilot carry government-issued photo identification.
    • July 2003 - The Department of Transportation began to issue new difficult-to-counterfeit pilot certificates.
    • January 2005 - The FAA is developing a rule requiring all pilots to obtain new certificates containing a hologram and other counterfeit-resistant measures.
  • Restrictions for foreign pilots. Includes background checks for individuals seeking to receive a U.S. pilot certificate on the basis of a foreign pilot certificate.


  • Charter flight security program. The TSA established a rule for certain aircraft operators, typically business jets, to carry out additional security requirements specific to their operations.
  • Flight school security. In January 2002, the FAA issued a number of actions addressing security for flight schools, such as monitoring of student pilots, controlling of aircraft keys, and ensuring aircraft are locked.
  • TSA flight training rule. In September 2004, TSA issued an interim final rule on flight training for aliens and other designated individuals. The rule requires every person to prove his or her citizenship status (including U.S. citizens) prior to beginning training for a recreational, sport pilot, private pilot (single or multiengine) certificate, multiengine rating (at any level), or instrument rating, on or after October 20, 2004, in an aircraft weighing less than 12,500 pounds. Foreign flight students must complete a background check process with TSA prior to training. This rule also requires all active flight instructors to undergo security awareness training and to keep records of that training.

TSA General Aviation Airport Security Guidelines

In May 2004, TSA issued "Security Guidelines for General Aviation Airports." The 48-page document is intended to address vulnerabilities and ensure that general aviation is not attractive for misuse by terrorists. As a cornerstone to the guidelines, TSA recommends use of AOPA's Airport Watch program and provides additional security recommendations for general aviation airport operators. AOPA has helped distribute the TSA guidelines directly to airport operators, pilots, and local leaders, including urging the National League of Cities (NCL) to distribute the information to some 18,000 cities, towns, and villages. The TSA guidelines are available online.

Industry Actions

AOPA's Airport Watch

By their nature, general aviation airports are like a suburban neighborhood. At a general aviation airport, rows of homes are replaced with rows of airplanes - most no heavier than a Honda Civic. Neighbors know neighbors, and everyone does their part to ensure the security of their airplane as well as the security of their neighbor's airplane.

That is precisely why AOPA worked in conjunction with TSA to launch AOPA's Airport Watch program. The Airport Watch program includes warning signs for airports, informational literature, and a training videotape to educate pilots and airport employees as to how security of their airports and aircraft can be enhanced. Department of Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge calls Airport Watch "a great example of government and the private sector working together to secure the homeland.

AOPA's Airport Watch is supported by a centralized toll free hotline ( 1-866-GA-SECURE) provided by the government, which operates the reporting system through the National Response Center. Members of Congress and TSA officials have hailed Airport Watch as a "blueprint" for government/industry partnerships in other transportation modes.

These airport watch concepts have been proven to work. Time and again, the TSA has praised the valuable information they have received from pilots reporting suspicious behaviors.

General Aviation Security Oversight

A November 2004 Government Accountability Office (GAO) report on general aviation security noted 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 (GA) 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.

Help Get the Word Out

Much has been done to improve general aviation security; however, we need your help in spreading the word! Please distribute and promote programs like AOPA's Airport Watch and the TSA's "Security Guidelines for General Aviation Airports." Help us ensure your constituents and airport operators are remaining vigilant and security minded. AOPA and the aviation community will continue to work with the government on sensible security solutions. By working together, we can continue the growth of general aviation in a safe and secure environment.

Updated Friday, February 04, 2005 10:57:41 AM