Following the Feb. 18 crash of a Piper Cherokee into an Austin, Texas, office building, speculation grew regarding the consequences that Andrew Joseph Stack’s criminal act would have on general aviation.
Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Texas), who has been vocal about GA security since the Austin incident, said the “Homeland Security Committee has an obligation to explore what, if anything, we can do to better protect federal buildings.” However, he pointed out that further GA regulation is not the proper avenue.
“I believe no regulations could have stopped this attack and I oppose any new regulations on general aviation,” McCaul said.
AOPA is working to ensure there are no new regulations as a result of the incident.
“AOPA members have been contacting us, worried about the impact this lone act could have on GA and asking what we are doing to protect their freedom to fly,” said AOPA President Craig Fuller. “Since the moment we first learned of the accident, we began reaching out to educate government officials, members of Congress, the media, and the public about GA, and we haven’t stopped—we won’t stop.
“The fact is, GA is safe, and it is secure, and we are going to make sure that message is heard loud and clear.”
As soon as initial reports of the incident were broadcast, AOPA established communication with key GA representatives in the Transportation Security Administration, Department of Homeland Security, and FAA in order to create a free flow of information and help analyze the situation. The association monitored Department of Defense activities and leaned on AOPA Airport Support Network volunteers to gain a better understanding of what was happening locally in Austin.
“In a situation like the Austin incident, the best action we could take was to immediately start communicating with those who regulate GA,” said Melissa Rudinger, AOPA senior vice president of government affairs. “We were able to help analyze the situation, provide detailed information about GA, and maintain reason.”
Now, the association is compiling key points of the incident to place it in context. Those points also will be used to keep key decision makers in the government and Congress apprised of the GA security enhancements that have been made since 9/11.
In addition to communicating with government officials and members of Congress, AOPA continues to work with the National Business Aviation Association, Experimental Aircraft Association, and General Aviation Manufacturers Association to take advantage of the different perspectives each brings to form a broader understanding. At times like these, it is critical that GA’s most influential associations present a unified message.
While reaching out to government officials, members of Congress, and other GA associations, AOPA also tackled the media, which have a strong influence on public perception. The association’s media relations department explained how GA works and what security measures are in place at GA airports nationwide. More importantly, AOPA pointed out that this incident wasn’t connected the TSA’s proposed Large Aircraft Security Program (LASP).
“Many reporters were intent on tying together Austin and anticipated changes to LASP, which is completely unrelated,” said AOPA Director of Media Relations Chris Dancy. “We explained that neither LASP nor any other security regulation could have stopped what happened.”
Fuller also helped to set the record straight less than 24 hours after the incident, participating in on-camera interviews with Fox News Channel and CNN.
“We are working every avenue to protect GA,” Fuller said, “but we can use your help. Now is the time to get engaged in aviation and help protect your freedom to fly.”
Pilots can get engaged by participating in Airport Watch. The program reminds pilots to lock their hangars and aircraft; use additional locking mechanism such as throttle, prop, or wheel locks; watch for suspicious persons or aircraft; and report suspicious activity to the local police or 866/GA-SECUR[E]. Pilots also can complete the short online course, General Aviation Security , developed by the AOPA Air Safety Foundation.
After becoming familiar with Airport Watch and completing the General Aviation Security online course, help get the word out by writing a letter to the editor to set the record straight if reporters have gotten the facts wrong regarding GA safety and security. AOPA offers tips to help you write an effective, well reasoned letter to the editor that is filled with facts. You also can notify AOPA of the report or contact the publication or TV station and have the reporter contact AOPA for information.
By Chris Dancy
If you visit AOPA’s Engage Web page, you’ll see that one of the suggestions is to respond to inaccurate or ill-informed news stories and editorials. “Why should I?” you might ask. Here’s why.
Last Friday, in the wake of the crash in Austin, Texas, a reporter for the Christian Science Monitor wrote an article about security in general aviation that had a negative tone. Many pilots either commented on the story or contacted the reporter directly to challenge the article. At least one suggested that the reporter contact AOPA, so he did.
AOPA Media Relations had a lengthy discussion with the reporter about GA security and the GA community’s concerns that lawmakers and regulators not overreact. The result was a follow-up article the next day that accurately reflected the GA community’s concerns and was much more neutral in tone.
It’s important to remember when discussing GA that most reporters, like most nonflying family or friends, have little understanding of GA. Taking the time to offer a reasoned explanation can pay important and immediate dividends.