An accused con man is in custody thanks to vigilant airport employees across central Kansas. They followed AOPA Airport Watch principals, and because they were alert for suspicious activity, police nailed an alleged criminal.
"We may not have tall fences and strobe lights," T.W. Anderson, president of the airport association and manager at Newton City-County Airport in Newton, Kansas, told the Wichita Eagle newspaper, "but that doesn't mean nobody is paying attention.
"The ability of airports and users in the Wichita area to keep watch for a suspect has helped greatly in this particular case. The people who belong at our airports tend to know each other pretty well. A stranger stands out."
The suspect allegedly tried to rent aircraft at several different FBOs, claiming to be a pilot. At one location, he left the space for the pilot certificate number blank. Others who dealt with him said that for someone who supposedly owned and flew aircraft, the suspect didn't seem to know much about aircraft systems.
As suspicions mounted, word began to spread through a communications network set up by the Kansas Airports Association to be a backup for disseminating terrorist warnings. Anderson also contacted local, state, and federal law enforcement officials.
"Once again, the Airport Watch concept has proven its value," said AOPA President Phil Boyer. "Just as they did earlier this year when two television producers tried to pull a fast one in St. Louis, alert airport personnel fingered someone who was up to no good.
"This time, fortunately, it was someone with petty criminal - not terrorist - intent," Boyer continued. "But we know the system works." The nationwide toll-free hotline run by the Transportation Security Administration (866/GA-SECUR) gets a steady stream of reports from pilots who notice things that just don't seem right. Trained personnel make sure the information gets to the appropriate authorities.
December 21, 2004