In its ongoing battle against overarching restrictions on general aviation, AOPA has once again taken on the state of New Jersey. Last Friday, the governor surprised the aviation community by announcing that the state was going to order that every aircraft parked at a New Jersey airport for more than 24 hours would have to be "secured or disabled" with a two-lock system by this Friday.
"While any aircraft owner certainly wants to make it difficult for someone to steal his aircraft or the valuable avionics inside, this order raised serious safety and economic concerns," said AOPA President Phil Boyer. "We had to get it 'fixed' so that it would meet security concerns without being an unreasonable burden on GA pilots."
AOPA immediately began burning up the telephone wires. Yesterday afternoon, AOPA President Boyer and Senior Vice President Andy Cebula flew to Trenton, the state capital, to bring member concerns directly to state officials. What AOPA got was an interpretation of the order that means that the majority of aircraft flying in the state already comply (a door lock and magneto key count as "two locks), a commitment to public hearings and public input before the order is converted to a regulation, and a promise from state officials to "work with your members." New Jersey will also actively promote AOPA's Airport Watch program, with the state buying and distributing some 200 Airport Watch warning signs to all of the state's airports.
The two-lock order was issued by the New Jersey Domestic Security Preparedness Task Force, which the legislature created shortly after the 9/11 attacks. The legislature gave the task force extraordinary power, and the two-lock order is just one of many orders directed at "enhancing" transportation security within the state.
The order requires airport operators to implement security measures to ensure that "all aircraft which are parked or stored at the aeronautical facility for more than a 24-hour period utilize a two-lock system which secures or disables the aircraft to prevent operation of the aircraft."
But what does that really mean to pilots based in New Jersey and transient pilots?
AOPA pushed for a reasonable interpretation of the order and obtained a memorandum from the state director of aeronautics (in the form of " frequently asked questions") defining what's acceptable. State officials assured Boyer during their meeting that the FAQ interpretation was binding.
So an aircraft with a door lock and a magneto key (even if it is the same key) is considered secured by two locks. That covers most production single-engine aircraft. A locked aircraft in a locked hangar meets the requirements. And aircraft only have to be double-locked only if they're parked for more than 24 hours at a facility.
AOPA pushed New Jersey to say that any aircraft at an air carrier airport (such as Trenton, Newark, or Atlantic City) would be considered appropriately secured, since TSA regulations and security strictly limit access to airport property. Officials are still considering that.
AOPA also asked the state to commit to removing the order when the national threat level drops back. "After all, are you going to keep the National Guard at the tunnels and bridges after the threat level drops to yellow or lower?" Boyer asked. Again, officials said they would consider that.
Although the order becomes effective Friday (March 28), the state is considering that as the beginning of implementation plans. It won't start taking enforcement actions against airports yet.
It's also important to note that the state won't be penalizing pilots. The order puts the monkey on the airport operators' back; the state could fine the airport operator or take away the airport's state certification.
The order also requires each airport to post signs listing emergency contact information. Following the meeting with AOPA, the state agreed to purchase and distribute some 200 AOPA Airport Watch warning signs to the state's airports.