The toll-free number to report suspicious activity at an airport—866/GA-SECURE (866/427-3287)—goes online Monday, December 2. The Transportation Security Administration (TSA), which is funding and operating the 24/7 hotline, has partnered with AOPA in providing an easy-to-remember national number as part of AOPA's Airport Watch program to help protect national security at our nation's general aviation airports.
"Airport Watch is designed to work like the highly successful neighborhood watch programs used in communities across the country," said AOPA President Phil Boyer. "Who better to know what's normal and what's suspicious at a local airport than the people who spend a lot of time there? We encourage all pilots to watch for unusual or suspicious activities and report them."
The program is much more than a telephone number, however. AOPA has created posters and pamphlets to show pilots examples of suspicious activities, steps pilots can take to help law enforcement, and sensible precautions for improving airport security. The brochure is available online and will be mailed to the more than 388,000 AOPA member pilots in mid-December. AOPA has also produced a training video with several terrorist scenarios acted out. Law enforcement officials participated in the production, providing realism for the police response to the threats shown on tape. The videotape and other program elements will be available mid-January.
AOPA had first proposed the idea of Airport Watch and a toll-free number to TSA in June.
"Phil came to me and said we have this idea for Airport Watch—and that AOPA was willing to invest the money to make it happen in terms of brochures, videotapes and promotions, but the one crucial ingredient was a toll-free number that would make sense for anyone who actually observed something at an airport to call into a central location to do something about it," said Admiral James M. Loy, under secretary for transportation security and TSA head. "My connection with the Coast Guard allowed me to make that connection for Phil, and I was able to let him know that the National Response Center was more than willing to add AOPA's Airport Watch to their game plan. So very quickly we were able to close the gap between a great idea that Phil had representing the community and what we recognized very quickly as being a good contribution to airport security around the nation."
The 866/GA-SECURE hotline is staffed 24 hours a day by the Coast Guard's National Response Center. That agency already fields emergency calls for 19 different federal agencies. AOPA helped the center develop response protocols for pilot calls concerning airport security.
Said Secretary of Transportation Norman Y. Mineta, "The Department of Transportation and TSA are taking many steps to protect our airports and aircraft from terrorists. But I know the government can't do it all. And I know that the security measures that we're putting in place at big air carrier airports just aren't practical at small general aviation airports.
"That's why I think AOPA's Airport Watch is such a great idea."
"AOPA is proud to have taken this proactive position by developing the Airport Watch program, and even prouder on behalf of our members to have received the endorsement of the very regulators who were trying to determine how to handle GA airports," said Boyer. "Being part of the solution is certainly better than waiting for government actions we may not endorse."