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DHS Inspector General: GA Operations Pose No Homeland Security Threat

June 18, 2009 — The current status of general aviation (GA) operations does not present a serious homeland security vulnerability requiring the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) to increase regulatory oversight of the industry, according to a report released by The Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Inspector General (OIG) this week.

The report, TSA’s Role in General Aviation Security, was drafted at the request of Representative Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas), chairwoman of the Subcommittee on Transportation Security and Infrastructure Protection, House Committee on Homeland Security. According to the OIG, the study objectives were to identify: TSA security requirements for general aviation airports; threats to general aviation; measures already taken to secure general aviation; steps nonfederal stakeholders have taken to enhance the security of general aviation; and any “incidents of concern” with security at general aviation airports.

The OIG visited a number of large and small, public and privately owned general aviation facilities in metropolitan areas where people could be perceived to be at risk in the event of a terrorist attack launched from the airports. “We determined that general aviation presents only limited and mostly hypothetical threats to security,” the OIG stated. “We also determined that the steps general aviation airport owners and managers have taken to enhance security are positive and effective…coupled with voluntary measures taken by the owners and operators of aircraft based at general aviation sites.”

The report goes on to state that significant regulation of the industry would require considerable federal funding and that no additional regulation is being recommended at this time.

“This report confirms what EAA has been telling Congress and government agencies concerned with aviation security for years,” stated Doug Macnair, EAA vice president of government relations. “Our position, which is based on known facts and other government and industry studies, has always been that general aviation does not pose a serious homeland security threat that would require any additional regulation of the industry, that there are no indications of plots to use GA aircraft in an attack, and that voluntary measures, implemented by the community to address the most significant potential vulnerabilities have been efficient and effective.”

The Department of Homeland Security Inspector General study is the latest in a series of studies and risk analyses - all which have concluded to one degree or another that general aviation aircraft and operations pose limited to negligible security risks. In November 2004, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) conducted a study that concluded that “the small size, lack of fuel capacity, and minimal destructive power of most general aviation aircraft make them unattractive to terrorists, and thereby, reduce the possibility of threat associated with their misuse.” In January 2008, the Congressional Research Service reported that typical GA aircraft are too light to use as a platform for significant terrorist activity and that heightened vigilance among airport operators and pilots had made it difficult to conduct surreptitious activities without detection. Other studies commissioned by industry have found similar results including one published by AOPA in March 2008 that clearly showed that GA aircraft do not pose a threat to nuclear facilities.

“The study just released by the DHS Inspector General is yet another credible voice adding to the preponderance of evidence that general aviation does not pose a significant security threat and that heavy-handed regulation of the GA community is unwarranted,” state Macnair. “We are sharing this study with members of the newly formed House General Aviation Caucus in an effort to continue to build a better understanding of general aviation from a security standpoint on the Hill and help dispel the stubborn perception by some in Congress that GA poses an undue risk to homeland security.”

While general aviation has once again been shown not to be a significant security risk or vulnerability all pilots and aircraft owners should continue to be aware of the potential for misuse of GA aircraft and remain vigilant for unusual or suspicious activity at our airports and report anything out of the ordinary to the Airport Watch reporting facility at (866) GA-SECURE (866-0427-3287).

General aviation accounts for 77 percent of all domestic flights and includes air cargo transport, emergency medical flight operations, flight school training, and corporate and private aviation.
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