Of all the things to worry about, crime should be the lowest on the list. But not taking prudent steps to keep your fleet safe could result in a big headache for you and your school. There are many ways to help secure aircraft, but aircraft theft continues.
Although we can take certain precautions to secure our aircraft, such as using chock, propeller, throttle, and control locks, clever crooks have proven many of these devices are able to be compromised. Reports of aircraft theft have increased in the past few years, thanks in part to the economy and the drug war in Mexico. And like the aircraft whose theft and reassigned N number led to a fluke incident with John and Martha King, most stolen aircraft are never recovered, especially not intact. A typical plan is for drug runners to use the airplane one or two times and then dump it in the desert or elsewhere, before moving on to the next airplane. This can make trips to parts of Mexico particularly dangerous, as one family learned.
Avoid the hassle and loss of use a stolen aircraft would bring to your school. Use locks or a hangar whenever possible, and put procedures in place to make sure students do the same. Participate in AOPA’s Airport Watch Program, and encourage others to do the same.
Unfortunately, in some cases it’s the parts thieves are really after. A pilot with a Cessna 182 said that when he recently opened the cowling expecting to find a dead battery as the culprit for a non-start, he found the battery and multiple other parts had been removed overnight from his tie-down location. With more than a $1,000 worth of equipment stolen, he was taken aback to discover the airport wouldn’t accept any responsibility for the theft as it was not expressly written into his tie-down agreement that they would provide security.
If you think your school is immune to getting mixed up with these unsavory types because your aircraft are safely tucked away in a hangar or your ramp is secured and patrolled, think again. You may also find your school to be the unwitting victim of an ever-growing industry of parts laundering, which has become a worldwide, multi-million-dollar problem.
The best thing you can do is truly know your supplier and verify the legality of parts whenever possible. Thankfully, there are now some easy ways to do so. Last year the first free, publicly accessible stolen parts database was launched. The Aviation Suppliers Association (ASA) now provides a free, publicly available stolen parts database, which is supported by the Boeing subsidiary, Inventory Locator Service (ILS). By taking advantage of this free service, your school can put into practice some quick and easy precautionary measures. The Aviation Crime Prevention Institute (ACPI) recommends that you cross-reference the database upon receipt of any part prior to its installation, as well as inspect serial numbers and data plates for signs of tampering.
Supplying suspect parts can result in huge fines and long jail terms for the perpetrators if caught, but if your flight school is the victim, the impact could immediately jeopardize the aircraft’s airworthiness and the safety of the people aboard. As many crime victims can confirm, the innocent bystanders often end up paying a far higher price than the criminal.