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Aircraft vandalism highlights need for Airport WatchAircraft vandalism highlights need for Airport Watch

AOPA has received several reports from members and the media regarding security issues at general aviation airports. While the incidents are not terrorist related, they underscore the importance of using AOPA’s Airport Watch.

During the night on July 13, 10 single- and multiengine aircraft and a Cessna Citation 550 were damaged at Monmouth Executive Airport in New Jersey. Many of the instrument panels were damaged, tires deflated, and fuselages graffitied. A detective investigating the incident told the Ashbury Park Press that a vehicle and cable were likely involved in tearing the tail from a twin-engine airplane and nearly severing one of its wings. Vehicles parked at the airport were also damaged.

The local police, FAA, FBI, and Department of Transportation are among those investigating the incident.

“While vandalism on this scale is almost unheard of, we can all participate in the safekeeping of general aviation’s local neighborhoods—our home airports—by locking up and looking out,” said Craig Spence, AOPA vice president of security.

In a recent example, an AOPA member contacted the association this week to report that the propeller was stolen from his aircraft in California and that the local police weren’t being responsive enough.

Another member had 30 gallons of fuel siphoned from one of the auxiliary tanks in her aircraft while it was tied down during a trip to Maryland. She reported difficulty getting the local police and federal agencies to act. She was passed around four federal agencies before she found somebody who would listen at the FBI.

The auxiliary tank was full upon landing but was nearly empty after being tied down on the ramp for about a week, the owner reported. There were no signs of a leak, and mechanics later confirmed that fact. The only other option, according to the owner, was siphoned fuel, an act that could have ruptured the fuel bladder in the tank.

The local police couldn’t understand how she knew fuel had been siphoned from her aircraft and how that constituted “tampering with an aircraft.”

“While officials have to prioritize, these are cases that still need to be checked into, and if police were familiar with their local airports and general aviation aircraft, we could get a better response,” said Spence. “AOPA’s Airport Watch Program is a great way members can introduce them to the airport environment and the voluntary security measures that GA pilots follow.”

Airport Watch isn’t designed just to prevent terrorists from using GA aircraft. It’s also intended to protect aircraft from theft and vandalism.

“These recent acts highlight the need for pilots to remain vigilant for suspicious activities at airports,” Spence said. “If you do see anything suspicious, immediately contact the Transportation Security Administration through Airport Watch’s 866/GA-SECURE hotline. These officials should be trained handle your call and should not send you through as many channels as one member experienced.”

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