Thursday, February 18, 2010

Homeland Security and TSA Will Be on the Spot: Why Do Private Planes Not Get Security Scrutiny?

Mark my words, a long-submerged scandal is about to surface, now that it appears to everyone except the Homeland Security Department that the crash of a small plane into an office building housing the IRS in Austin was the domestic-terrorist act of an anti-government crank.

Who do private aircraft, including corporate jets, some of which are the size of commercial regional jets and even 737s, get by without direct federal security screening before takeoff?

Yeah, I know the industry says that it has plenty of adequate security measures in place and that its crews and passengers don't need the same kind of security screening that commercial crews and passengers get.

Yet right this minute, some highly trained, utterly reliable commercial pilots are being patted down at TSA airport checkpoints, while private aviation plies the skies without any real scrutiny, beyond its own assurance that everything is swell.

The fact is, big or small, private airplanes, including corporate jets and charter jets, are exempt from the security the rest of us are subjected to -- and Homeland Security and its poorly supervised offspring the TSA have not been called to account for this.




Randal L. Schwartz said...

Surely, you've gone over the edge with this one.

Do you realize how many legitimate landing strips are within a 20 mile radius of every major city? And then how few of those have any sort of permanent staff, let alone tower or (gasp) security fencing?

Even if TSA were to police every tower-controlled airport, a would-be airbomber will just start at one of the 100 times as many uncontrolled airports.

No, I recognize this is a threat, but it's one of those that will just divert resources away from more obvious spots to fix. I'd much rather they open twice as many checkpoint lanes at the public airport than cut that in half just to police the general aviation population.

richmanwisco said...

Why do we not perform security screening on every driver renting a midsize Ryder truck? After all, the largest act of domestic terrorism in this country involved a rented truck.

Or, why don't we perform background checks and security screening on any person wishing to carry a firearm. After all, if this guy wanted to really take some lives, an AK-47 would have been much more effective.

Perspective, please.

Mike Miley said...

While we are at it, why don't we screen everybody that rents a package van... who knows, they could be filling it with chemicals to blow up a federal building or something.

Be realistic. What would a screening have uncovered today? Nothing. I venture to say TSA wouldn't have found a weapon. Heck, I bet he didn't have any liquids with him.

What you advocate would cost a fortune AND it wouldn't have stopped today's suicide.

Stephen Force (Steve Tupper) said...

Exactly what security procedures would you suggest? No background check of which I’m aware could possibly have revealed the threat that this guy is alleged to have posed. (Note that 18 of the 19 September 11, 2001 terrorists would have passed even an aircrew background check with flying colors.) No ramp security would have prevented what we saw in Austin today.

And the fact is that private aircraft that weight substantially less than most airliners (e.g. 45,500 kg MTOW) are subject to security procedures, as are private charter operations and other operations over a broad range of aircraft types and/or operational circumstances (DHS Full Program, Partial Program, Private Charter Program, sterile area requirements, DCA Access Program, etc.).

Smaller aircraft under most circumstances aren’t subject to TSA screening for a number of reasons, the most obvious of which seems to evade the American public: The elusive fact is that this guy probably saved lives by using a general aviation aircraft. Any reasonable person should understand that using a GA aircraft is more difficult and less effective at the task of damaging a building or hurting people than much more easily obtainable things like a backpack or a rental truck.

I don’t want to belabor the point with a series of scenarios involving backpacks full of explosives or raise again visions of the April 19, 1995 bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in downtown Oklahoma City with a rental truck. And, lest my words be twisted, I’m by no means suggesting that anyone ought to bomb or damage anything under any circumstances.

The point is that a GA airplane is a wholly inefficient and overly complicated way to deliver any explosive. Or even blunt force. You have to get the plane. You have to know how to fly it. You have to be able to fly it with reasonable precision at high speeds. (I fly some aerobatics and I can tell you that it’s not as simple as it looks.) You have to navigate to the intended target. And you pretty much have to stay in the plane all the way to impact.

If your goal is to hurt people and damage property, that’s ridiculously complicated and unnecessary. No self-respecting terrorist would go through all this trouble if hurting people and damaging property is the goal.

Joe, if you fear actual loss of life and damage to property, you need to re-focus. It’s not the airplane, man. Sure, airplanes crashing into buildings are exciting and they make the news. But to focus on the airplane is to bury yourself and your readers in fluff and ignore the real issue. This guy, if he was as he's alleged to have been, would have been a lot more dangerous with a rental truck.

If you really care about what matters and are above racking up web page hits by making the easy sale to an already paranoid and ignorant public, let's address the actual issues and not use GA as a whipping boy.

We are a proud nation in which citizens can be jacks of as many trades as they can learn and competently practice. Where grocers, cops, letter carriers, lawyers, systems engineers, and neighbors can also be – by the sweat of their brows and the skills of their hands and feet – pilots.

If you feed irrational fears, you put at risk this core freedom. And, even worse, you divert attention from the real problem and help to delay and confuse real and genuine efforts to deliver meaningful security that addresses the real issues.

In the meantime, I’ll gladly walk through a scanner and go through the pat-down TSA-style when I fly GA.

Just as soon as you have to go through it to rent a truck.

Rod Rakic said...


It seems like you answered your own question.

QUESTION: "Why Do Private Planes Not Get [TSA] Security Scrutiny?"

ANSWER: Well, because private planes are, by definition, private.

The same logic that allows you to carpool with a friend, (or drive an SUV to a meeting with some colleagues) without a TSA agent present to wave a wand over you before you get behind the wheel and turn the key, is at work here too.

You cite corporate jets... which by definition are not carrying anonymous passengers, they are carrying people (usually their employees) who are well known to their operators.

Piggybacking on today's tragedy in Austin is just link baiting at best, and a cheap shot against General Aviation at worst.

You'll find no friend of the TSA in me. I don't enjoy participating in the security theater of commercial air travel either... but there is no scandal here.

Plenty of government agencies (beyond the TSA) have studied the threat posed by people who travel by private aircraft.

Logic, and I dare say a little common sense, dictates that general aviation does not require the same sort of security that commercial air carriers are subject to.

If you feel the need to take your shoes off, or maybe empty your pockets before you pull out of your driveway... be my guest.

Anonymous said...

If you are worried about air safety, you should write the FAA and your congressman to demand that the privatized Flight Service be taken back over by the government. For decades, highly trained government employees in local Flight Service Stations (FSS) gave private pilots weather and safety briefings on the phone. A pilot would call, get the briefing, ask questions, and be confident that the information they are getting was timely and reliable. About 3 years ago, that system was dismantled and contracted out to Lockheed. The government employees were canned, for the most part, replaced by cheaper contract employees. FSS's all over the country were closed and regional centers opened. Now, if you call from, say upstate New York, you'll get a briefer in Kansas or Texas with no knowledge of the local area where the proposed flight will happen. They are not as well trained as the FAA personnel. The briefing is not as reliable. Safety, by privatizing a critical function, is compromised. More pilots rely now on their own interpretation of weather data on the internet rather than professionals.

Fixing this problem improves safety to the public much more than some silly notion that you can ramp screen tens of thousands of private aircraft.


Mike Miley said...

While I don't agree with your position, I appreciate your willingness to post alternative views.


Anonymous said...

While this fool obviously didn't care if anyone was hurt or killed, previous posts make it clear that his intent wasn't to achieve maximum mayhem. That would more effectively been done with a gun that he could have purchased at far less effort and cost than an aircraft.

Rather, his intent was to send a message. In this, he wasn't all that different than the criminals behind the 1995 or 2001 terrorist attacks.

So how do we respond? Do we reward these acts with the coverage and panic they desire? Or do we treat them as they are: the sick and twisted acts of criminals. Horrible. Tragic. But so were the shootings at places like Virginia Tech, Columbine, Northern Virginia Community College, Northern Illinois University,Larose-Cut Off Middle School...