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General aviation security: What's changed since 9/11

In the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, tragedy, general aviation security was immediately thrust into scrutiny. AOPA, the pilot community, and the federal government implemented numerous security measures in response, even though general aviation had no role in the events that morning.

“AOPA and the pilot community have worked hard during the past seven years to increase general aviation security,” said AOPA President Phil Boyer. “General aviation is more secure, in large part, because the pilot community has a vested interest in protecting their aircraft and airports.”

Last week, Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Michael Chertoff recognized the importance of such efforts.

“The fact is that government, the federal government or the state government, does not need to order people to protect assets when the people themselves place great value on the assets,” said Chertoff, during a speech last week at the Brookings Institution.

Pilots’ investment in aviation is the foundation of AOPA’s Airport Watch Program, which has been tremendously successful. Through the program, pilots secure their aircraft and watch for and report suspicious activity at their airports through a toll-free hotline (866/GA-SECURE).

AOPA has also been at the forefront advocating for a reasonable approach anytime security measures are proposed. The association has also dispelled common myths that general aviation airplanes pose a threat to national security.

For example, AOPA commissioned a report by an internationally recognized nuclear safety and security expert to directly address concerns about any potential risk posed by general aviation aircraft to nuclear power plants. Since then, the government has agreed that general aviation poses no threat to nuclear power plants.

While AOPA has led and worked hard for industry initiatives that support voluntary security standards, there have been times that the government stepped in and made regulations.

AOPA worked with the FAA and Transportation Security Administration on the process for student pilot background checks while fighting attempts at the state level that would have duplicated that effort and made it prohibitive for new students to become pilots.

Another broad-reaching change since 9/11 is the requirement that pilots carry government-issued ID at all times on board the aircraft. Additionally, 75 percent of active pilots have already switched to plastic, more counterfeit-resistant pilot certificates.

To the dismay of many pilots, temporary flight restrictions (TFRs) that were issued sparingly before 9/11 now abound. While AOPA has been successful in preventing unnecessary TFRs, the association has diligently reached out to the pilot community with notifications and instructions anytime the FAA releases security TFRs that protect the president and any other special security events.

“We’ve made a lot of progress since 9/11,” Boyer said. “But pilots cannot become lax. We always need to be looking out for our aircraft and airports.”


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