With renewed warnings about terrorists again trying to use commercial airliners for suicide attacks, now is a good time for general aviation pilots to be especially vigilant around their home airports as well.
"We've laid excellent groundwork for securing GA airports with AOPA's Airport Watch," said AOPA President Phil Boyer. "The program has really heightened security awareness among not only pilots, but airport managers and businesses that call airports home as well."
Since Airport Watch was launched in late 2002, AOPA has printed and distributed nearly three quarters of a million brochures, as well as more than 10,000 training videos, 11,000 posters, and 646,000 Airport Watch decals.
Every pilot in the United States received an Airport Watch brochure. AOPA sent one to every member, now totaling over 400,000, while the Transportation Security Administration, AOPA's partner in the program, paid to mail brochures to the approximately 200,000 non-AOPA member pilots.
Airport Watch was developed in conjunction with the TSA to address the fact that the security needs of a GA airport are different from an air carrier airport, and that the needs vary from GA airport to GA airport.
"From the outset, AOPA felt it was crucial to have TSA's support," said AOPA President Phil Boyer. "We convinced TSA that because small general aviation aircraft pose no significant threat to national security, GA could and would look after its own airports."
To help make reporting suspicious airport activity uncomplicated, TSA provided a nationwide toll-free telephone number (866/GA-SECURE, or 866/427-3287) for pilots and other airport personnel to call. The exact number of calls the National Response Center (where 866/GA-SECURE is answered) has received on the hotline is not known. That pilots are using the number is.
"AOPA is committed to distributing materials through all segments of our industry," said Boyer. "Tom Poberezny, president of the Experimental Aircraft Association, and I produced a version of the Airport Watch training tape that was sent to each of EAA's chapters.
"AOPA's Airport Support Network volunteers have been a key component in promoting Airport Watch at their home airports," continued Boyer. "Every week I hear from these volunteers how important the Airport Watch program is to their airport."
Airport managers have also embraced the program. Many prominently display the Airport Watch sign. The state of New Jersey purchased and delivered additional signs to each of their GA airports.
ASN volunteer Michael Lessard at Hancock County Bar Harbor Airport (BHB) wrote, "I have spoken with numerous pilots, aircraft owners, FBO operators, airport managers, etc. I have only heard positive feedback with regards to the Airport Watch Program.
"It is a well-developed, well-marketed effort that will certainly be effective. Everyone [at the airport] is onboard and familiar with how it works. I cannot think of single reason why anyone would not fully advocate this program. However, the real proof is within the general community. The word has obviously spread to those people as well. I have had many inquiries and comments about the Airport Watch Program from them. They, too, support the program, since it represents security for the whole community. The program really does reach out beyond the fence."
"Key members of Congress have given the program high marks," said Boyer. "Rep. James Oberstar (D-Minn.) went so far as to offer a resolution praising AOPA for our efforts to secure general aviation."
Airport Watch materials are available on AOPA Online.
Photo: Airport Watch sign on an entry gate at Arthur Dunn Airport in Titusville, Fla. Photo by ASN volunteer Larry Gilbert.