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General aviation's voluntary security measures are workingGeneral aviation's voluntary security measures are working

A sharp drop in the number of general aviation aircraft stolen this year shows that general aviation's efforts to enhance airport security are working. According to the Aviation Crime Prevention Institute, only three general aviation aircraft have been stolen so far in 2003 compared to 13 during all of 2002.

"The drop coincides with the roll-out of AOPA's Airport Watch program," said AOPA President Phil Boyer. "AOPA can't and won't take credit for the drop. Instead, it goes to the airport managers and employees and individual pilots all across the country who took up AOPA's challenge to create a 'neighborhood watch' for their local airports."

The Transportation Security Administration clearly agrees the self-imposed security enhancements are worth the effort. In a terrorist threat advisory, TSA urged pilots to follow the Airport Watch guidelines, going so far as to as to provide an Internet link to the program's Web page.

Airport Watch was created in conjunction with TSA. The program calls on pilots to be vigilant and act as protectors of their own local airports by watching for and reporting suspicious activities such as people who don't seem to belong, aircraft with unusual or unauthorized modifications or cargos, or anything that seems out of place.

"Most GA airports are relatively small," said Boyer. "Pilots based there know each other and can recognize both normal and out-of-the-ordinary activity there. Airport Watch provided a brochure to every pilot in the United States outlining what to be alert for. And TSA provided an easy-to-remember toll-free nationwide hotline (866/GA-SECURE or 866/427-3287) for pilots to report suspicious activity."

TSA won't discuss the number, type, or outcome of calls to the hotline but acknowledges that pilots have been using it.

General aviation's security enhancements, and the government's willingness to embrace them, are based on several facts:

  • General aviation aircraft pose little security risk.
    • No general aviation aircraft has ever been used in a terrorist attack.
    • The overwhelming majority of the fleet is too small and too slow to be used in a 9/11-type attack.
    • Fully loaded, they weigh less than the family car weighs empty.
    • They lack the payload to carry an effective weapon.
    • For that small percentage of aircraft that might be large enough and fast enough (business jets, etc.), TSA has issued regulations establishing security requirements on a par with airline security.
  • General aviation aircraft are unlikely to be hijacked.
    • Most GA aircraft have two to six seats. The pilot knows his passengers in the same way a driver knows the people riding in the family car.
  • General aviation airports are secure by their nature.
    • They are populated by the local aviation community, whose members know each other.

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