By Paul Lowe
January 31, 2011
An article in The Atlantic magazine alleging that general aviation security is lax to nonexistent prompted an outcry from GA organizations last month.
In “Private Plane, Public Menace” in the January/February edition, author Jeffrey Goldberg wrote, “The TSA [Transportation Security Administration] has proposed that it be allowed to impose certain security measures on private jets, such as requiring operators to ensure that their passengers are not on the no-fly list, but for now the agency screens only those Americans who cannot afford to fly on private planes.”
National Air Transportation Association vice president Eric Byer fired back that the most disturbing aspect of the article is the quote that to commit a terrorist attack, “All you need is money to buy an airplane, or a charter.”
Most egregious, added Craig Fuller, president and CEO of AOPA, was the author’s apparent assumption that a lack of physical security measures such as fencing or magnetometers somehow equates to a complete lack of security.
NBAA president and CEO Ed Bolen pointed out that the magazine’s readers “deserve to know that a host of initiatives to harden general aviation against terrorist threats have long since been welcomed by industry, put into place and are well understood by TSA officials and others in government.”
Bolen explained in a letter to the editor of The Atlantic that GA pilots and aircraft owners are vetted against terrorist watch lists, and pilots are required to hold tamper-proof ID issued by the government. Charter aircraft with a maximum certified takeoff weight of 12,500 pounds or greater are covered by specific federal security requirements, and foreign citizens seeking certain types of flight training in the U.S. undergo fingerprint-based background checks before training.
In a separate letter to the editor, Fuller said that the Department of Homeland Security’s “See Something, Say Something” campaign is an outgrowth of AOPA’s Airport Watch, developed several years ago by the association with the support of then-TSA Administrator Admiral James Loy.
Byer asserted that Goldberg has a history of blasting the TSA on various aviation security protocols. “But his recent commentary, taking a slap at the rich and in the process at general aviation security, was simply over the top,” Byer wrote. “Sadly, Mr. Goldberg’s ignorance of general aviation security, surprising for such a relatively well known author, is the root cause for the op-ed.”