The Transportation Security Administration authorization bill passed by the House of Representatives June 4 reflects a bipartisan commitment to protect general aviation and ensure that the industry has input in security measures affecting it.
While considering the TSA Authorization Act (H.R.2200), members of Congress took to the House floor to express concern that the TSA hasn’t understood GA’s value and is pursuing regulations that could cripple the industry. Others members of the House noted GA’s contributions to the nation’s economy and endorsed measures that would require the TSA to work with the industry on security measures affecting GA.
House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Bennie G. Thompson (D-Miss.) said that the theme of “greater stakeholder participation” runs throughout the authorization bill. “General aviation, in particular, gets a great deal of attention in this bill,” he said, because the agency has until recently displayed a lack of understanding of the uniqueness of GA.
Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas), chairwoman of the committee’s transportation security and infrastructure protection subcommittee, said that she and members of the panel “have concerns about TSA’s proposed rulemaking covering general aviation.”
Rep. Pete Olson (R-Texas) took particular exception to the proposed Large Aircraft Security Program (LASP). He said that many of the TSA’s provisions would be costly for the GA community but would result in little improvement in security.
“The TSA’s notice of proposed rulemaking to address the perceived threats posed by general aviation aircraft essentially took the department’s principles of risk-based security measures and threw them out the window,” Olson said. H.R.2200 includes an amendment offered by Olson to block nongovernmental entities from checking terrorist watch- and no-fly lists; the checks would be required for some GA aircraft under the LASP.
GA pilots have expressed concerns about TSA security regulations that could be burdensome, such as the LASP and a security directive affecting GA operations at commercial-service airports.
Rep. Dina Titus (D-Nev.) noted that GA benefits her district by taking passengers to see the Grand Canyon and other sites, supplying goods to Las Vegas, and serving as “an efficient means for businesses travelers to reach our great city, one of the most popular business travel destinations. This is a vital industry to my district, and I will be a voice for it here in Congress.”
The attentiveness of members of Congress to the special nature of GA resulted in a number of provisions in H.R.2200 that address pilots’ concerns and call for the TSA to consult GA stakeholders. An amendment introduced by Rep. John Mica (R-Fla.), along with Reps. Tom Petri (R-Wis.), Sam Graves (R-Mo.), and Vern Ehlers (R-Mich.), calls for security directives to be used only to respond to emergencies and immediate threats, not as an alternative to the normal regulatory process.
Mica explained that the amendment would restore security directives to their intended purpose and keep the proper procedures for implementing regulations. “[W]e see the TSA issuing security directives when the ‘immediate threat’ they are seeking to address is sometimes unclear,” he said.
Ehlers said that the amendment would force the TSA “to think more carefully and more thoroughly about what they are doing and what they are proposing to do.”
Graves also spoke in favor of the amendment, noting that the TSA has been focusing its resources on regulating GA even though it has little evidence to suggest a threat. “As a pilot more than 20 years myself,” he said, “I know firsthand how general aviation security operates. The bottom line is: it works.”
The amendment, which was supported by AOPA and other GA groups, passed the House and was included in the bill.