A new Congressional Research Service report, "Securing General Aviation," adds considerable ammunition to AOPA's lobbying efforts to make sure GA is treated fairly and rationally in any new security legislation.
"This report from Congress' highly respected research agency provides an unbiased, realistic view of both the minimal threat that light GA aircraft represent and the significant social and economic impacts of ill-considered security regulations," said Andy Cebula, AOPA senior vice president of government and technical affairs. "While we might take issue with some points, the report must be carefully reviewed by policy makers before considering any new security restrictions on general aviation - including making the Washington, D.C., ADIZ permanent."
The report makes extensive use of AOPA resources and notes that "the diversity of GA aircraft types and operations flown suggests that a one-size-fits-all approach to security is not practical - a tenet that both the GA industry and the TSA agree on."
The report also concurs with AOPA's contention that GA security should be risk-based and tailored to the unique characteristics and vulnerabilities of specific airports.
"Securing General Aviation" carefully analyzes the limited capability of the typical GA aircraft to carry conventional explosives, noting that even the 1,300-pound device involved in the February 1993 World Trade Center bombing would be beyond the carrying capability of a light GA aircraft. "Thus, at least with regard to being used as a platform for conventional explosives, the threat posed by light GA aircraft is relatively small compared to trucks which have significantly larger payload capacities.... Executing an attack that involves loading a GA aircraft with a large quantity of explosives may be difficult without raising some suspicion at the airport, at least domestically where airport operators and pilots have been instructed to be vigilant for such unusual activities," the report states.
The report says that the "chemical and biological threat using GA aircraft may not be as ominous as some fear." Many chemical or biological agents are only effective if released in an enclosed area. Others, such as mustard gas or nerve agents, would only affect a limited portion of the population because of the limited load-carrying capability of a light GA aircraft.
While a small-scale "dirty bomb" could be carried aboard an aircraft, it could also be delivered by other means, including a pedestrian. "There is no reason to believe that GA aircraft are any more appealing to terrorists nor any more vulnerable than other possible methods of attack," the report states, noting that once a radiological or nuclear device is in the hands of a terrorist, it would be difficult to stop an attack because there are "many options available to deliver the weapon to its intended target."
"Securing General Aviation" says that airspace restrictions, in and of themselves, "are not particularly useful tools unless a coordinated response to protect critical assets with those protected areas are effective.
"Merely relying on enforcement tools is not likely to be of significant benefit because terrorists are likely to care little that they are violating airspace restrictions in carrying out an attack."
The report says that airspace restrictions are "highly contentious" because they have a direct impact on air commerce and freedom of movement, and the potential for airspace violations has significant repercussions for both professional and private pilots. The report adds that airspace restrictions are costly and are of questionable effectiveness.
Voluntary industry efforts to improve GA security are highlighted in the report, which specifically references AOPA's Airport Watch program.
"Since its inception, the Airport Watch program has been credited with alerting authorities to suspicious activities at GA airports on several occasions," the report notes. It also reminds Congress that AOPA alone has spent more than $1 million to promote GA security.
"Securing General Aviation" notes that industry groups are opposed to overly broad, comprehensive legislative efforts mandating uniform security regulations across the wide range of GA airports and activities and quotes AOPA saying that imposing such mandates "...would be ridiculously expensive, unnecessary, and ignore the guiding principle of making investments in security based on risk."
December 28, 2005