The Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association introduced its Airport Watch training video during a Washington, D.C., press conference March 4. The video is part of the comprehensive AOPA's Airport Watch program to enhance security at general aviation airports. Airport Watch is a partnership between AOPA and the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) and is modeled after the highly successful neighborhood watch efforts.
The Airport Watch training video will be distributed to pilot, airport, and government organizations. It's also available on the Internet in streaming video.
"For Airport Watch to work, it's crucial that pilots know what to be looking for," said AOPA President Phil Boyer. "The brochures that AOPA and TSA sent to every pilot do an excellent job of explaining, but this videotape goes even further. It graphically demonstrates the types of situations that should raise concern."
The Airport Watch video was produced in consultation with TSA. Former FAA airport security officials and state and local law enforcement officers served as technical consultants in developing the various training scenarios. Some scenes were enacted using police officers and dispatchers, ensuring the depicted law enforcement response was absolutely accurate.
The video opens with a message to pilots from Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge. "Keeping our airports safe in this free and welcoming nation is an enormous challenge," he said. "We all must watch out for one another. Airport Watch can help."
The video includes four full enactments of situations that would warrant a call to law enforcement or to the nationwide toll-free Airport Watch hotline, 866/GA-SECURE (866/427-3287). The hotline is funded by TSA and staffed by the National Response Center.
AOPA President Phil Boyer introduces each scenario and explains when to call the national hotline, and when to call 9-1-1.
"If there is an immediate threat to people or property, pilots should call 9-1-1," said Boyer. "And a cell-phone call to 9-1-1 will almost always connect with the appropriate local law enforcement agency. That's important for pilots to know since they frequently find themselves at airports away from their home area.
"If the situation isn't immediately threatening, but there is something about it that doesn't look like normal aeronautical activity, the pilot should call 866/GA-SECURE," Boyer said. "The trained watchstanders at the National Response Center will determine which law enforcement agency should get the information."
The first scenario on the tape is one in which a call to 9-1-1 is in order. It shows a person trying to force his way into locked aircraft with what is clearly criminal intent, although it's less clear whether or not there's a terrorist intent. The scene was shot at the municipal airport in Danbury, Ct., with the participation of Danbury police officers. They suggested additions to the script to show how they'd really respond to the 9-1-1 call. The result is dramatic.
Other scenarios range from the obvious, a pilot being forced at gunpoint aboard a corporate jet, to the more subtle, someone claiming to be a pilot at an airport asking questions that just aren't quite right.
The "suspects" portrayed in the Airport Watch training video come from a variety of backgrounds and ethnicities. "There is no terrorist type," Boyer says on the video. "Terrorists won't always speak with an accent or look a certain way. It's what they're doing and how they're acting that should make you suspicious."
The video points out that pilots should be alert for such things as unusual cargo or unusual modifications to aircraft. It offers tips on how pilots can make their aircraft more secure against theft, and how to make their airports more secure.
The video encourages pilots to maintain and develop the "neighborhood" atmosphere so common at general aviation airports. "Go ahead and greet strangers at your airport," Boyer advises on the video. "It gives your airport the reputation as a friendly, neighborly place. But friendly doesn't mean no security. Just the opposite. People intent on doing bad things want to be left alone."
AOPA's Airport Watch training video will be widely distributed and viewed. AOPA is sending the video to some 3,500 airport directors and managers, 1,400 AOPA Airport Support Network volunteers, 158 TSA federal security directors, and 50 state aeronautics directors.
The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and the AOPA Air Safety Foundation will be playing the video during their pilot safety seminars. Those seminars reach tens of thousands of pilots annually. The Experimental Aircraft Association will distribute the video to its 800 chapters nationwide. The Civil Air Patrol will be incorporating Airport Watch materials into its training programs as well.
The video is available free to any organized pilot or airport group. And AOPA's Airport Watch training video can be viewed on AOPA's Web site, which attracts more than 3.7 million unique visitors annually.
"It's up to all of us to protect general aviation," Boyer tells pilots at the conclusion of the video.
The 393,000 members of AOPA make up the world's largest civil aviation organization. AOPA is committed to ensuring the continued security, viability, growth, and development of aviation and airports in the United States. These airports are a vital and critical component of our national transportation system.