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Airport Watch: A secure partnershipAirport Watch: A secure partnership

A general aviation pilot finds a notebook and discovers that it contains bomb-making information. An airport worker reports an identification badge missing. Suspicious persons are noticed photographing airport security checkpoints.

The AOPA Airport Watch Program is modeled after neighborhood watch programs across the nation and primarily relies on pilots remaining vigilant for suspicious activity in the airport environment. Photo by Chris Rose.

What these incidents and many others—from threats made against pilots to indications of criminal activity at an airport—have in common is that they were called in to federal authorities by airport users on a 24/7 hotline (866/GA-SECURE or 866/427-3287), a key component of AOPA’s Airport Watch Program.

Since 2005, the GA Secure Hotline has received 345 phone calls that resulted in reports being generated about cases from unsecured airport gates to “criminal activity taking place at the time of the call,” said Nobuyo Sakata, AOPA director of aviation security.

Some calls are referred to the local police; others are coordinated by the Transportation Security Administration’s (TSA) security operations center. According to the TSA, the most common complaints are about suspicious behavior and unusual surveillance or photographing of airport locations.

“The aircraft and pilots of America’s general aviation community do not pose a significant terrorist threat to the United States, but the general aviation community takes security concerns very seriously,” Sakata said.

AOPA unveiled its Airport Watch Program, patterned after neighborhood watch anti-crime programs, at a news conference in April 2003 in Washington, D.C. Forging a valued partnership with the TSA, AOPA has distributed and funded a wide range of educational materials about how to make aircraft and airports more secure. TSA provides the national, toll-free hotline.

“The secure hotline is essentially the general aviation pilot’s version of the general safety and security reminder, ‘See Something, Say Something,’” Sakata said, adding, “General aviation pilots believe in protecting their freedom to fly by policing themselves.”

While the AOPA Airport Watch Program helps the approximately 5,200 GA airports implement proven, comprehensive measures, the association continues to work with industry counterparts and government agencies in a variety of other channels to protect members’ freedom to fly by making airports more secure.

“We have assisted TSA in the revision of its Security Guidelines for General Aviation Airports. The revision is under final review and scheduled to be published by early next year,” Sakata said.

Also, AOPA has worked with the agency to update the online Recurrent Security Awareness Training module that satisfies TSA Security Training required for flight schools by 49 CFR Part 1552.

The updated training course will replace the current version in early 2017.

Dan Namowitz

Dan Namowitz

Associate Editor Web
Associate Editor Web Dan Namowitz has been writing for AOPA in a variety of capacities since 1991. He has been a flight instructor since 1990 and is a 30-year AOPA member.
Topics: Airport Advocacy, Security, Airport

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