Jan. 15, 2004 - AOPA President Phil Boyer today sent a stinging letter to the president of CBS News, complaining about the "slanted, incomplete, factually erroneous, and salaciously inflammatory" story on general aviation airport security. That story aired Wednesday night on the CBS Evening News and claimed that there was "no security" at GA airports and that "nothing had been done" since 9/11.
Boyer took the story apart piece by piece.
"Your irresponsible reporting techniques included ... failure to mention a wide range of security initiatives - developed by AOPA and other organizations in concert with the FAA and Homeland Security - that are now in practice across the country," Boyer wrote the head of CBS News, Andrew Heyward. Boyer said that the "security expert" in the story was in fact a PR consultant with grief counseling experience at the NTSB. The other "expert" was a real estate agent.
"On the basis of the voluminous emails and calls we have received today, I can confirm that your reporter, Bob Orr, has badly tarnished his reputation in the aviation community. Had he - or anyone - from CBS simply called, we could have provided the information that the story was completely lacking," wrote Boyer.
He said the story was void of any evidence that GA should be considered a security threat.
"To suggest otherwise is to be blind to an enormous body of facts that could never produce the sensationalistic sham that you deign to call a news story."
Boyer pointed out that the 5,400 public-use airports in the U.S. have adopted security measures appropriate to their situation. The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) has acknowledged that "one size does not fit all" when it comes to GA airport security. Some, home to large business aircraft, are fenced with controlled access, for example.
Most airports have implemented pilot vigilance programs using AOPA's Airport Watch guidelines. An aviation industry committee (which included representatives from TSA, the Department of Defense, Secret Service, and FBI) has compiled "best practices" guidelines for airport security that the TSA has adopted and will distribute. The guidelines recognize differing security needs for the wide range of GA airports.
Boyer again reminded CBS that a typical GA aircraft is incapable of causing much damage. "The typical general aviation aircraft, when fully loaded, weighs less than an empty Honda Civic and carries about the same amount of fuel as a large SUV," he wrote. "By comparison, an airliner like the ones used on September 11, 2001, can weigh as much as 180 Civics and carry nearly 24 thousand gallons of fuel. In stark contrast, a general aviation aircraft has limited ability to cause damage as evidenced by the unfortunate incident in Tampa. It was an extremely rare act by a lone individual that, while horrifying to imagine much less see, caused relatively minor damage.
"Since 9/11 we are all living in a world marked by a heightened state of fear," Boyer continued. "Many organizations and members like ours have worked hard to address opportunities to keep those events from being repeated. By planting deep seeds of fear that are totally without merit, your report did a major disservice not only to our members, but to the general public as well.
"We are outraged and you should be ashamed."