Monday, February 22, 2010

Private Aviation Security: A Reconsideration

Ok, ok, I hear you, private aviation. You're right for the most part, and I am wrong.

Last week I went too far in suggesting that the idiot domestic terrorist who crashed a small plane into an Austin office building housing the IRS exposed a "scandal," a gaping hole in aviation security -- which is the fact that private aircraft, including big corporate jets, don't get TSA scrutiny.

Coming from a guy who routinely beats the TSA like a rented mule, and who has commented frequently that existing checkpoint security is little more than security theater, that is an unsupportable position, and I withdraw it.

Every business aircraft I have ever been on has seemed secure and there has been a process to ensure it. The FBOs and the pilots themselves have always made sure that they knew who was on board, and in every case I have had a personal conversation with a pilot before boarding. Clearly, that conversation was not just social.

Now, there is still one issue that I wish the industry would address clearly. Yes, corporate jets usually are occupied by passengers who know one another and are known to the flight crew. But strangers are routinely flying on charter flights -- on aircraft far bigger than that little Piper Cherokee that plowed into that office building housing the IRS in Texas.

The industry does not like to address security in public specifics, partly because passengers on corporate and other private planes manage to avoid the TSA hassles that the rest of us -- including commercial airline pilots -- routinely encounter. The "optics" are not good.

I would direct you to an ad in today's Wall Street Journal for Delta's Air Elite private jet service. The headline is: "The Shortest Distance Between Two Points is NO LINES." (Caps theirs)

I have two questions for the industry: 1. To what degree are metal detectors being used in FBOs? If not, why not? 2. To what degree are unknown passengers on, say, a charter flight checked out against watch lists and subject to searches of checked bags?

I'll be happy to turn this blog over for a day for a full explanation of private aviation security from the industry standpoint.

But I'm asking those questions.

Meanwhile, here is how Mike Boyd addresses this matter today in his always must-read essay on his company Web site:
As usual, Mike doesn't pull punches:

The New Hot Issue:
The Cessna 172 Threat

"The tragic incident where a disgruntled individual flew his Piper Cherokee into the IRS offices in Austin has created the latest hot issue for the don't-bother-to-think section of the media, not to mention a whole passel of politicians.

"Aviation Security Lapse Uncovered!" was a general headline. "Domestic Terrorism" was the reference made by another source. [Sorry, Mike, I stand by that one]. "More needs to be done to screen these private airplanes!"

"More needs to be done to find journalists who can think their way out of a paper bag.

"... He wasn't carrying explosives. The event was not the result of a security failure. It wasn't domestic terrorism. [Again, Mike, I say it was and can't see how it can be defined any other way.] It's the result of a societal vulnerability to people suddenly going bonkers, notwithstanding whether they choose to express themselves with a Piper Cherokee, a 12-gauge shotgun or a baseball bat.

"Janet Napolitano's On The Case. So, exactly what is the TSA supposed to do to "screen" these types of people? Interview every private pilot before he or she clambers into the 172? "Hi, there. Are you intending to fly this contraption into a building?" Or, "Is your karma in the love place today?"

"Finally the real-deal question: "Do you harbor a secret dislike of the IRS?"

"That'll clear the general aviation skies in a flash.

"A tragic event, but not a security failure. But do expect the usual congressional suspects to try to make as much of this as politically possible this week."


OK, most points taken.


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