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EAA Government Advocacy

TSA Proposal is a Serious Threat to Personal Aviation

The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) proposed new and sweeping restrictions on general aviation aircraft in 2008. The proposal (Docket # TSA-2008-0021),  known as the “Large Aircraft Security Program” (LASP), would impose new and onerous security regulations and restrictions on owners, operators, pilots, and passengers, and on general aviation (GA) airports that serve “large” aircraft.

As proposed, the LASP would apply only to aircraft with a maximum gross takeoff weight (MTOW) over 12,500 pounds. But new regulations finalized by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security make it clear that the government considers all aircraft to be potential threats — from 747s to hot air balloons.

Issued by the Bureau of Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and finalized on November 17 2008, those new regulations apply to all private aircraft, of any weight, capacity, or type. The new CBP rules make no distinction between small GA aircraft and commercial airliners. And they cast serious doubts on the belief that LASP would be limited to large aircraft in the long run.

Limiting the LASP to aircraft over 12,500 lbs is a just convenient line in the sand. The LASP would set a precedent that would put at risk the rights and privileges of every private aircraft owner and pilot.

The TSA Proposal 
The LASP would affect an estimated 15,000 aircraft, 10,000 operators, and 300 airports. It would create a major shift in the role of the federal government in personal and business aviation, imposing new restrictions on the rights of private citizens to assemble and to travel in their own vehicles. The proposal raises serious constitutional questions about interstate commerce, personal privacy, and freedom of movement.
In brief, the LASP would impose the following requirements on every owner/operator of any aircraft over 12,500 lbs max. gross takeoff weight:

  • Require every owner/operator to assign a security director to oversee flight operations. That person would have to be trained at a TSA-approved school.
  • Require the security director to develop a security program and obtain TSA approval of that program.
  • Require an audit of the security program initially and every two years thereafter, by the TSA or a TSA-approved third party.
  • Require every owner/operator to submit fingerprints of all pilots and flight crew members to TSA or a TSA-approved third party for a Criminal History Record Check (CHRC) and a Security Threat Assessment (STA), initially and every five years. Commercial airline pilots are now required to undergo similar checks.
  • Require every owner/operator to submit the passenger manifest for each flight to the TSA or a TSA-approved third party, and to receive clearance for all passengers prior to the flight. Passenger names would have to be checked against two TSA lists: the “selectee” list, which subjects commercial airline passengers to additional screening at the airport, and the “no fly” list, which prohibits listed individuals from boarding a commercial flight.
  • Require every owner/operator to keep records of all passenger security checks, and to store those records securely for at least three years.
  • Prohibit firearms and other restricted carry-on items from the cabin area unless the aircraft has a TSA-approved storage area. The TSA’s list of prohibited carry-on items includes hand and power tools, golf clubs and other sports gear, and some items common in camping gear and survival kits.
  • Require some non-commercial airplanes to carry a federal air marshal, when instructed to do so by the TSA.

It would also impose many new security requirements on some 320 airports that the TSA has identified as serving “large” aircraft. In addition to placing new and onerous restrictions on general aviation operations, these requirements would also impose substantial cost burdens on aircraft owners and operators and on the airports that serve them.

The Effects of the LASP on General Aviation

  • It could significantly curtail or eliminate many historic aircraft operations and programs.
  • It threatens to undermine fundamental liberties and privileges of U.S. citizens.
  • It could represent only a first step in a broader security policy that would risk suffocating the nation's valuable general-aviation activities.
  • It would misappropriate attention and focus in our nation's efforts to enhance security, applying disproportionately vast resources and onerous restrictions to a comparatively limited area of risk.

Historic aircraft operations — Historic aircraft, like EAA’s B-17 “Aluminum Overcast,” inspire, educate, and entertain a very receptive American public. Each year, on average, more than 4,000 passengers ride on “Aluminum Overcast, and another 17,000 visitors tour her on the ground, at some 55 airports throughout the United States. The LASP could significantly curtail or eliminate many historic aircraft programs and activities, including EAA’s B-17 Flight Experience.

The Collings Foundation operates several historic aircraft in its “Wings of Freedom” tours and other “living aviation history” programs. According to the Foundation, the requirements proposed in the LASP, “would be so cumbersome, far reaching, and virtually impossible to comply with, that our flying of historic aircraft would not be possible. . . [the LASP] would be fatal to the Wings of Freedom Tour and our ability to take these historic aircraft around the country and share them with millions of Americans annually.”

Personal Liberties — For the first time, the TSA’s regulatory activities would be extended to personal GA aircraft, historic and vintage aircraft, and operators, passengers, and pilots flying for personal and business use. As such, the LASP is a radical departure from anything the TSA has enacted to date. It would, in effect, require governmental review and authority before you could operate your own personal vehicle.

And it would require separate review and authority for every single flight that included passengers. Nothing like the LASP has been imposed on cars, trucks, boats, or any other privately owned, privately operated vehicles. The TSA’s proposal raises serious constitutional questions about personal liberty, privacy, and freedom of movement.

The LASP could also have a significant and chilling effect on interstate and intrastate commerce. It would place new and significant costs and restrictions on the freedom of individuals and companies to move people and goods around the country by personal, company-owned, or chartered aircraft.
General aviation is an important link in the nation’s transportation chain, with an increasingly important role in business and in the movement of goods and people. The LASP represents a hyper-focus on airplanes as instruments of terror.

Cars, trucks, and buses can pose an equal or greater threat to security than GA aircraft. But the TSA has not imposed or proposed undue restrictions on the use of cars, trucks, or buses because there is wide recognition that those vehicles are critical to interstate commerce and to the movement of goods and people. We need to foster a similar understanding of the very real importance of general aviation to the nation’s commerce.

A New Precedent — The proposed LASP is the first time the TSA has extended its reach to any class of privately owned vehicles in personal use. The LASP represents a significant and unprecedented intrusion into the lives and activities of private American citizens engaged in personal or business activities.

That’s a crucial point: With this proposal, the TSA would cross a line and enter new territory, extending its regulatory hand into areas previously and appropriately left to private citizens.

Benjamin Franklin wrote: “They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety.” The LASP would sacrifice a considerable measure of your personal liberty in exchange for a very small measure of safety.

Costs vs. Benefits — As an anti-terror measure, the LASP would be an inefficient and inappropriate allocation of the TSA’s muscle and of public and private resources. General aviation aircraft present a relatively minor threat of terrorism. In recent years, new security measures and increased vigilance at GA airports and by GA owners and operators have further reduced what little threat existed.

To date, none of the aircraft covered by the LASP have been used as weapons or vehicles of terror. If history offers any guide, cars, trucks, and computer hackers are far greater potential threats than GA aircraft. To single out general aviation for the kinds of security restrictions included in the LASP is unwarranted and unrealistic, and a misdirected use of government power and resources.

Because the LASP would enter new territory, the resources and infrastructure needed to implement the proposal do not yet exist. The proposal includes new concepts of security program training and approval, of third party security auditors, and of third party watch list reviewers who are intended to provide accurate and timely approvals. No one knows how these concepts would be put into practice or how well they would work. Yet, without them, the general aviation community would be unable to comply with the TSA’s proposed new requirements.

As we’ve noted, the LASP would affect something like 15,000 aircraft, 10,000 operators, and 300 airports, plus thousands of pilots and flight crew members and an untold number of passengers. The sheer numbers involved strongly suggest a huge federal program to administer and enforce the TSA’s proposal. The agency projects the total 10-year cost of the proposal as high as $1.9 billion, with considerable uncertainty reflected in the TSA’s own cost estimates. Roughly 85% of that huge price tag would be borne by the aircraft operators.

The LASP would:

  • Extend the TSA’s (and the Federal Government’s) regulatory muscle into virgin territory;
  • Probably require a new or greatly expanded TSA bureaucracy and new third-party commercial vendors;
  • Impose significant financial and operational burdens on aircraft owners and operators and on hundreds of airports;
  • Force some operators to discontinue use of their aircraft;
  • Potentially place some airports off-limits for large aircraft;
  • Have significant and chilling effects on commerce and the economy;
  • Intrude on fundamental rights, privileges, and privacy of private and corporate American citizens; and
  • In some rare instances, have the potential for taking property (forcing the sale of aircraft) if the operator cannot gain approval for the required security program or pass the mandated background checks.

Any such proposal demands thorough, accurate, and objective cost-benefit analysis before it is imposed on the American public.  More importantly, the constitutional rights of American citizens are at stake. The constitutionality of the LASP should be examined in detail before the proposal is enacted.

EAA expects a supplemental Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) for the LASP in early 2010. The NPRM should address many of the comments and concerns raised by the industry.

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