With the anniversary of the September 11, 2001, terror attacks falling on Saturday, the news media have already started reporting on our national security and vulnerabilities. Some of their stories have, and will, focus on aviation.
General aviation security has improved significantly since September 11, and it's happened because of positive actions taken by the GA community. Heavy-handed government intervention hasn't been required.
"I'm the ultimate optimist," said AOPA President Phil Boyer. "I think it's going to get better. We all have a duty to keep our eyes and ears open. And that's working."
Referring to AOPA's Airport Watch and the toll-free 866/GA-SECUR(E) hotline, Boyer noted that the Transportation Security Administration is receiving some seven calls per day from pilots reporting possible suspicious activities. "That shows pilots are on the lookout. Recently three attempts were made to test the system, and the TSA was very pleased that all three were reported to the hotline. General aviation has changed proactively since 9/11." You can see a video clip with more of Phil Boyer's reflections on September 11 and its effect on general aviation [ low resolution | high resolution; broadband connection recommended].
AOPA's highly successful Airport Watch is only the most visible of the numerous actions taken since September 11 to improve GA security. (See " GA and Homeland Security.")
Shortly after the attacks, AOPA and others in the general aviation industry developed a 12-point plan to enhance security. Today, all of those recommendations have been implemented either by voluntary compliance or changes in government regulations.
The FAA's databases of current and student pilots are constantly reviewed for links to known or potential terrorists. There are extensive background checks on foreign pilots and non-U.S. citizens seeking flight training in the United States.
The FAA, acting on industry recommendations, has issued guidelines addressing flight school security, including close monitoring of student pilots, control of aircraft keys, and positive identification of students and aircraft renters.
Following a petition from AOPA, the FAA issued new regulations requiring pilots to carry government-issued photo identification, and the agency is now issuing new, difficult-to-counterfeit pilot certificates.
The Transportation Security Administration recently issued " Security Guidelines for General Aviation Airports," developed from recommendations from AOPA and other GA organizations.
As a cornerstone to the guidelines, TSA recommends the use of AOPA's Airport Watch program. The guidelines recognize that GA airports don't present the same level of threat as large commercial airports. The document gives security recommendations on such things as personnel, aircraft, surveillance, security procedures and communications, and specialty operations.
AOPA has helped distribute the TSA guidelines directly to airport operators, pilots, and local leaders. The association has worked with the National League of Cities to distribute the information to some 18,000 cities, towns, and villages.
And as pilots are painfully aware, security-sensitive areas, such as Washington, D.C., are protected by flight restrictions and "no fly" zones. Large, 60-nautical-mile-diameter temporary flight restrictions (TFRs) accompany the President wherever he travels. TFRs also are enforced over large sporting events and sensitive installations such as military bases and nuclear power plants.
September 10, 2004