U.S. Senator Herb Kohl today called general aviation a "ticking time bomb." During a Senate Transportation Appropriation subcommittee hearing, the Democrat from Wisconsin (ironically, the home of the world's largest general aviation event at Oshkosh) said that security is minimal or nonexistent at some GA airports, and "until we have a handle on general aviation security, we cannot assure the public that aviation security is under control."
The new under secretary of the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), John Magaw, acknowledged that there is a wide variation in the level of GA security. He told the committee that the TSA needs to develop a template for GA users to follow.
"This is extraordinarily frustrating," said AOPA President Phil Boyer. "We have tried to be proactive and helpful on issues of GA security.
"AOPA and other industry partners developed and submitted to the government a series of reasonable, practical security recommendations. And while the FAA has considered some of these suggestions, we haven't yet had a response from TSA."
AOPA is scheduling meetings with both Senator Kohl and Under Secretary Magaw to discuss GA security issues.
During the Senate hearing Thursday (which was attended by AOPA legislative affairs staff), Senator Kohl expressed frustration with what he perceives to be the government's lack of oversight for the "security of chartered aircraft and general aviation."
Kohl stated that the government needs a plan for larger GA aircraft also and implied that such aircraft security be parallel to commercial aircraft. (Senator Kohl was the author of an unsuccessful amendment to the Aviation Security Act, which would have required the FAA to implement a security program for aircraft weighing less than 12,500 pounds.)
Under Secretary Magaw said some GA airports were wide open, and he used the example of the young student pilot in Tampa who crashed his aircraft into the side of a building. Currently the TSA is in the process of hiring the "highest level of personnel" he said, and they are looking for "someone who knows the GA culture." It will take a couple of months to complete the work needed on GA security requirements, Magaw said.
Another witness, Deputy Secretary Michael Jackson, the Department of Transportation's second in command, said that although DOT does not yet have the approach needed for overall GA security, the agency continues to work on the issue. And he did acknowledge that the GA community has been helpful.