In a special phone conversation with TSA head Admiral James Loy and his top deputies, AOPA President Phil Boyer learned that pilots are being asked to exercise extreme vigilance and cooperation as an alternative to new security procedures and airspace restrictions. The call was in response to this afternoon's announcement by U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft and Office of Homeland Security chief Tom Ridge that the federal government had raised the terror alert level for the first time to code orange, meaning a "high" danger of attack. That level requires government agencies to increase their security efforts.
"Secretary Mineta advised the transportation community, 'do not be alarmed, but be alert,'" said Boyer. Because transportation modes are known to be favorite terrorist targets, pilots must be vigilant. Pilots should expect increased local law enforcement surveillance at general aviation airports during this time of heightened vigilance.
Pilots are asked to watch for anything unusual or suspicious at the airport. Report any such activity to local law enforcement. Secure your aircraft before walking away from it.
Because of the heightened state of alert, incursions into restricted airspace can be expected to bring rapid and perhaps harsh response by authorities. TSA emphasized that there is an "enormous seriousness" to the TFRs, and pilots must be careful to strictly adhere to all ATC procedures. For the first time, Washington, D.C., has been ringed with live anti-aircraft weapons.
Pilots are reminded of the TFRs surrounding tomorrow's 9/11 ceremonies in Washington, D.C., New York City, and Pennsylvania. In the Washington, D.C., area, Potomac and College Park airports will be closed until 1800 Eastern on September 12 by special FAA flight restriction.
Through a new notam issued late on Tuesday, the TSA has also revoked all waivers from notam 3353 that prohibits general aviation operations for three miles and 3,000 feet over sporting events (stadiums) and open-air assemblies. This effectively eliminates banner-towing operations at these sites. A security notice has also been issued explaining the waiver revocation.
While the greatest threat appears to be to U.S. embassies, military bases, and other interests overseas, intelligence officials also fear low-level al Qaeda operatives might attempt small-scale attacks in the United States.
Based on information from a suspected al Qaeda operative, and corroborated using other intelligence assets, the government believes U.S. assets in Southeast Asia are especially at risk. However, because the information may be incomplete, and because communications among terrorists a year ago followed a similar pattern and also indicated overseas targets, President Bush decided to raise the threat level assessment at home as well.