Transportation Security Administration chief Kip Hawley told a Senate committee that, despite their numbers, small general aviation aircraft don't pose a big risk to the transportation network.
And he praised the principles of AOPA's Airport Watch as being "remarkably effective at virtually no cost."
Hawley was responding to questions by the chairman of the Senate aviation subcommittee, Sen. John D. "Jay" Rockefeller (D-W.Va.), who is also chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence. Rockefeller has had a longstanding concern about the potential vulnerabilities of general aviation to terrorism.
"What should they (general aviation) be doing?" Rockefeller asked the TSA.
"The basics of securing the aircraft, observing anything out of the ordinary, all those basics are remarkable effective at virtually no cost," said Hawley. Those basics, of course, are the core principles of Airport Watch.
But Rockefeller expressed concern that GA passengers were rarely screened. "And I talk about it very openly with the general aviation people who are not anxious to see changes made," said Rockefeller, "but understand that they have to do their part, too."
Hawley noted that in addition to the industry's voluntary efforts to secure GA, the TSA was doing more screening of pilots and studying the "throw weight" of GA aircraft to determine the potential for causing harm.
"There will be a big cliff from when we go from those measures to where we are actually screening those that are getting on the flight," said Hawley. He noted the tremendous cost of screening all GA passengers.
"We need to work out with the community what is the security benefit of screening every individual passenger," Hawley said.
"That ignores the obvious; every GA pilot knows exactly who is flying with them, said AOPA President Phil Boyer. "And we do not believe that GA passenger screening would provide a benefit worth the cost to American citizens."
Boyer noted that AOPA had disagreed with Sen. Rockefeller on the issue of GA security before.
"Sen. Rockefeller is not a general aviation basher," said Boyer. "He has been a strong supporter of GA in his state, and he was key player in the late '90s in crafting a plan that avoided user fees at that time.
"So we will talk about his position on security again when I meet with him in the very near future to discuss the FAA funding issue.
"And let's not forget that as chairman of the aviation subcommittee, Sen. Rockefeller will be key again in deciding the biggest threat confronting general aviation today," said Boyer.
January 19, 2007