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'Detroit News' editorializes in favor of general aviation'Detroit News' editorializes in favor of general aviation

Other major papers offer reasoned response to Tampa incidentOther major papers offer reasoned response to Tampa incident

The Detroit News wrote a strong editorial in favor of general aviation. Friday's editorial read:

Small-Airport Security Needs Fresh Approach

Lawmakers and others have proposed tighter restrictions on general aviation, the nonairline part of flying. They worry that terrorists might use small airplanes as weapons. The matter is getting a closer look since a 15-year-old student pilot flew a single-engine Cessna into a high-rise bank building in Tampa, Fla.

General aviation is much different than commercial airline operations and should be treated as such. Security precautions are in order. But airtight measures designed for airlines cannot be easily transferred to small airports such as Grosse Ile, Troy and Howell.

Nor should they be.

General aviation is at once big business and recreation. There are 637,000 licensed pilots in the country, including 17,700 in Michigan. General aviation accounts for 79 percent of all U.S. takeoffs and 59 percent of all hours flown.

Thousands fly their own planes on business. Charter services haul passengers for a fee. And for most private pilots, flying is an hour or two of sport on weekends. They operate single-engine piston planes out of 18,000 airports.

Many rural airports are, literally, grass strips carved out of cornfields with few amenities beyond gas pumps and a hangar.

In the Tampa crash, student Charles Bishop stole an airplane and deliberately flew it into the building. It was suicide. Laws preventing his flight are already in place. Stealing planes is a felony. So is flying them into buildings. More in-flight rules are not an answer to general aviation security.

However, small airports, charter operations and flight schools would be prudent to monitor their operations more closely. Adding these federal security measures also would help: Require photographs and hard-to-counterfeit pilot licenses. Citizenship of pilot applicants should be verified. One area of special concern is identifying the passengers on chartered jets, which are large enough to do substantial damage if flown into a building.

The government's response to general aviation security tests the conflicting federal themes of security and normalcy. It is "normal" for a private pilot to take off from a grass strip and fly hundreds of miles cross-country without ever talking to an air traffic controller. Tracking the flights would break an already-burdened control system.

But federal officials can concentrate on who gets U.S. pilot training and licenses. As in most security matters since Sept. 11, the better approach is to identify and isolate would-be terrorists rather than attempt wholesale protection of hardware and facilities.

By The Detroit News

Other major newspapers have also offered reasoned response to the Tampa incident.

The Houston Chronicle said, "The United States cannot throw a security net around general aviation and expect the same level of intense security Americans expect for commercial aviation.

"Timothy McVeigh, recall, used a common rental truck to plant his bomb in Oklahoma City. It would be impossible to subject every rental truck and vehicle to the kind of scrutiny given airliners. General aviation is in much the same position."

A Los Angeles Times editorial noted, "No measure can protect the public from every risk. It would be impractical and probably impossible to subject the nation's 200,000 private planes and 500,000 pilots to the same degree of security as commercial aircraft. But even the pilots association, when it is not busy protecting its members' independence, knows that security can and should be improved. Even before Tampa, it called for government review of existing licenses and for the issuing of new, difficult-to-counterfeit pilot licenses with a photo ID. It recommended steps that owners can take to prevent airplane theft and to verify the identity of passengers. These are good if belated precautions."

Salt Lake City's Deseret News said, "Is it possible to require thorough checks at small airports without costing so much money that private pilots would end up paying prohibitive fees? Is it even worth the bother, considering a car bomb could cause as much damage as a small plane loaded with explosives?

"The answer may well be that this is a part of aviation best left alone for now, but the subject still is worth discussing. Homeland security director Tom Ridge ought to be organizing meetings and exploring possibilities."

And the New York Times wrote, "It would be unrealistic to demand equally stringent security at all of America's 4,500 airports, or to believe that it is possible to keep any of the quarter-million small planes nationwide from falling into the hands of determined terrorists. Because an attack on an airliner endangers hundreds of passengers, and a fuel-laden airliner is a far deadlier missile than a small plane, focusing scarce federal resources on commercial aviation makes the most sense."

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