Analysis: Ten Years Since 9/11 — Where Does GA Stand?
September 9, 2011 – The 10th anniversary of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, has naturally regenerated media interest in the background and tools used by those who carried out the attacks in New York, Washington, D.C., and Shanksville, Pennsylvania. Consequently, aviation is receiving renewed media and public attention. Some of the stories are natural reflections on the events of a decade ago, while other reporting has been sensational attempts at grabbing audience.
Those of us involved in GA, however, can reflect on how recreational flying and other uses of general aviation have changed over the 10 years since the attacks and as a result of the federal government’s anti-terrorism efforts.
As you may recall, GA was fundamentally shut down for an extended period following the 9/11 attacks. There was uncertainty about when or if personal aircraft would be able to fly again. It took a great deal of work by EAA, AOPA, and other aviation groups – as well as aviation supporters within the government – to ensure our flying freedoms would be reinstated in any form, let alone brought back to some semblance of normalcy.
But the facts that were true then continue to be true today: Small GA aircraft do not possess the destructive capability to be considered a major threat to life or property. A number of studies by the federal agencies charged with protecting the public came to the same conclusions. While it’s possible to use any transportation mode or conveyance for nefarious purposes, light aircraft are incapable of causing the catastrophic damage or economic mayhem sought by terrorist organizations.
These conclusions led federal security and aviation agencies to create a scaled approach to GA security based on the level of potential risk. Corporate aircraft and larger airplanes have more stringent regulations that small, personal aircraft. Flight schools have received greater scrutiny because of their role in the 9/11 attacks, with new standards that make it more difficult to abuse these resources. Airports large and small have received funding to beef up their site and operational security where appropriate. Temporary flight restriction (TFR) areas have become commonplace over political events and major public events, even when the reasoning is as much economic protection for the organizers as security-based needs.
Many of us who fly may have experienced the results of that raised security profile. Perhaps it’s a new coded gate at the GA hangar area, an airport name tag, or added paperwork when you give or receive flight training. Those of us who enjoyed flying prior to 9/11 may chafe at these inconveniences or, at other times, encounter real hurdles to the ability to fly such a locked gate between us and our aircraft with no one around to open it. It’s important to know, however, that there continue to be some within Congress and elsewhere in government who believe GA should be subject to even greater restrictions that would choke off one of our nation’s unique freedoms and most notable export industries. EAA continues to work tirelessly wherever possible to educate those who still perceive GA as a threat.
The 9/11 attacks and their aftermath have certainly changed the perception of GA in America, often for the worse. EAA and other groups work to educate the media and public every day about the realities of GA. There are those who have used this perception for overreaction or even political gain. Those are the additional challenges we in the aviation community must face head-on to ensure our ability to pursue this unique freedom.
If there has been a silver lining for GA in the aftermath of 9/11, it is that we as a community have become more aware of what happens around us. We might know our airport neighbors a little better, we keep our airplanes and hangars better secured, and we stay alert to things that look out of place at the airfield. EAA’s chapter network and AOPA’s Airport Watch program are among the ways that we in the GA community are making sure that aviation remains a safe, secure, and rewarding pursuit.
If you as an aviator are asked about aviation security and safety in your hometown, there are ways to reply. As EAA said 10 years ago in the first days after 9/11: It’s about balancing necessary national security while ensuring that basic freedoms of flight remain intact. Aviation must not be made an exclusive target for unnecessary and onerous restrictions.
Personal flight is an important transportation and economic engine for our nation. GA is also the very best of America and a demonstration of our national love of freedom combined with personal responsibility. It is important to protect and nurture our ability to fly, and it’s a responsibility of us all to lead by word and example of what GA is and what it isn’t.