Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome
(Image courtesy of bordneraerials.com)
AOPA is taking on the top federal prosecutor in Minnesota over airport security. U.S. Attorney Thomas B. Heffelfinger says security must be tightened at the Twin Cities' general aviation reliever airports to counter terrorists. The local press quoted him saying that someone could "kill 3,000 people" by flying a single-engine airplane into the roof of the Metrodome stadium during a Sunday afternoon football game.
"We respectfully believe that your quotes, if reported accurately, reflect significant misunderstanding about aviation security, and, in fact, are not consistent with the views and policies of the U.S. agencies responsible for ensuring the safety and security of the nation's general aviation airports," said AOPA President Phil Boyer in a letter to Heffelfinger.
The U.S. Attorney for Minnesota said it was his "job to worry about what might happen if a terrorist ever stole a plane."
If that's so, then "you must know that following the September 11 attacks, no segment of aviation has been under more scrutiny than general aviation, with a resounding conclusion that general aviation does not pose a significant threat," Boyer wrote.
And Boyer reminded him that the former head of the Transportation Security Administration, Adm. James Loy, told Congress in 2003 that some security officials had overstated the threat from general aviation.
The Government Accountability Office (GAO) told Congress in 2004 that "the small size, lack of fuel capacity, and minimal destructive power of most general aviation aircraft make them unattractive to terrorists, and thereby, reduce the possibility of threat associated with their misuse."
Consider the evidence: When the unfortunate Tampa teenager committed suicide by crashing a Cessna 172 into a glass-faced bank building, the aircraft did practically no damage at all.
"From your professional experience," Boyer said, "you certainly recognize that terrorists rarely, if ever, act spontaneously. Historically, fewer than 10 U.S. registered aircraft (a high-value personal item) are stolen nationwide annually."
Heffelfinger concluded that because he was able to ride his bicycle onto Flying Cloud Airport unchallenged, voluntary security tools such as AOPA's Airport Watch were ineffective.
"We would respectfully argue just the opposite - they work to near perfection, as proven by your experience," Boyer said, suggesting that a middle-aged, high-profile attorney on a bike wouldn't be much of a threat. "The hundreds of security-minded pilots and workers at that airport did not feel the need to challenge your presence since, based on the news report, you were just 'doing your job.'"
AOPA has attempted to speak directly with U.S. Attorney Heffelfinger, so far without success.
For more information, see " General Aviation and Homeland Security."
August 25, 2005