For the third time in its two-and-a-half year history, the Transportation Security Administration's chief is stepping down, once again leaving a void at the top of an agency with profound impact on general aviation. Admiral David Stone last week tendered his resignation last week. He'll stay on as agency's head until June.
"They almost need revolving doors to handle the comings and goings of TSA and Homeland Security officials," said AOPA President Phil Boyer. "We need consistent and steady leadership by the individuals that shape our fragile flight environment."
With the departure of top officials following Tom Ridge's resignation, several top jobs in the Department of Homeland Security still remain unfilled. Meanwhile, new Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff is expected to announce major department changes next month.
"What remains constant is that AOPA will continue its ongoing efforts to reduce unnecessary security restrictions by working with Congress and the federal agencies," Boyer said. "And we continue to tell them - GA is not a threat."
And there may be a growing recognition of that in Washington.
In a recent interview with AOPA Pilot magazine, Rep. John Mica, the chairman of the House aviation subcommittee, said, "Anyone knows you could load into an SUV or a U-Haul much more dangerous quantities of explosives or biological materials than you can in a small airplane. We need to look at a risk-based system and spend our money where it makes the most sense. We can't close off general aviation in this country."
Chertoff seems to be headed down the same path. He has on several occasions said that his agency must set priorities by degree of risk. He has specifically talked about shifting federal security funds from smaller communities to large cities like New York that are at a much greater risk for a terrorist attack.
"The same idea applies to general aviation," said Boyer, "and we'll continue to carry that message to Secy. Chertoff, the new TSA chief, and the rest of the security establishment."
AOPA also will continue its proactive security programs, like Airport Watch. "We recognize that terrorism threatens us all, and that general aviation can, and should, be part of the solution," he said.
AOPA had excellent relations with Adm. Stone, who was a featured speaker at last year's AOPA Expo in Long Beach, California.
"We hope that Adm. Stone's successor will demonstrate the same openness and desire to understand and work with the industry," said Boyer.
The more-than-404,000 members of AOPA make up the world's largest civil aviation association. AOPA is committed to striking a common-sense balance that fulfills national security needs while protecting aircraft owners and pilots from overly burdensome regulations.
April 11, 2005