Bizav Security Ramps Up

Mar 4, 2014 - 8:30 PM

In the decade since 9/11, many new guidelines and rules have been applied to business aviation flights. More could be on the way.

The latest buzz from Washington is that the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) is about to issue revised security guidelines for private aircraft that weigh more than 12,500 pounds—about the size of a Beechcraft King Air 250 turboprop. 

Of course, many such guidelines already apply. Private aircraft, along with their crews, mechanics and owners, have been under increased government scrutiny and regulation in the years following the 9/11 terrorist attacks in 2001. And in 2004, the TSA published “Security Guidelines for General Aviation Airports.” That document outlined common signs of potential or impending terrorism and methodologies for risk-based threat analysis. 

General aviation (GA) trade associations embraced much of this content in security programs they developed for their members. The National Air Transportation Association’s “Safety 1st” ground audit program, for example, has a large security component, according to John McGraw, the group’s director of regulatory affairs. Additionally, NATA participates with the Air Charter Safety Foundation’s safety programs. The nonprofit ACSF, which was founded in 2007, has established a best-practices standard for security and compliance for air charter and fractional aircraft ownership operations.

Individual FBOs also have regular interaction with the TSA and have fostered good relationships with the organization, says Tim Lewis, director of training for FBO chain Landmark Aviation. “We have a lot of sites on commercial airports,” notes Lewis, whose company has locations at 52 airports in the U.S., Canada and Western Europe. “A lot of our guests have received TSA training and they are badged for their home airports and work areas as well, per TSA requirements. Transient traffic on non-sterile areas of the airport is escorted. Everybody is watched.” 

Lewis adds that Landmark supports the efforts of the National Business Aviation Association (NBAA) and NATA to voluntarily work with the TSA and “keep them out of our lobbies. At the end of the day, we understand our customers and the intricacies of our business and we self-police. We match passengers to pilots. We do a lot of training for sites not regulated by TSA for applications in security. All of our guys are pretty well trained and that training is recurrent. Each location has a security plan that is individual for the site and each location has a safety and security coordinator.” Lewis says that the security plans and systems at each Landmark location are audited “frequently.” 

Despite such efforts, the TSA saw fit to issue a Notice of Proposed Rule Making (NPRM) in 2008 for a Large Aircraft Security Program (LASP) for GA aircraft that weigh more than 12,500 pounds. The impact of LASP would be to spread the security misery endured by the airline-riding public to general aviation. It came complete with burdensome recordkeeping requirements and a long list of prohibited carry-on items, including golf clubs and tools. A flood of negative public comment ensued. GA groups were quick to criticize the NPRM as unworkable and to fault the TSA for its ignorance of the industry. “We believe that the NPRM clearly reflects a lack of basic understanding of the business and general aviation communities,” said a statement from the National Business Aviation Association. “Application of the elements contained within this proposal to these communities today would not enhance security without causing catastrophic and permanent damage to intrastate, interstate and international commerce and mobility.” The NBAA went on to cast certain NPRM provisions as “completely nonsensical.” 

Partially in response to these criticisms, the TSA restarted the moribund Aviation Security Advisory Committee it had inherited from the FAA and populated it with a diverse group of aviation stakeholders, including those from GA, as a method of vetting potential policy changes.

What impact this committee will have on LASP remains to be seen. The TSA is expected to issue a revised LASP via the NPRM process soon and NATA’s McGraw, for one, is hopeful that it will better address GA concerns.

What to expect at Washington’s Reagan National 

At Washington, D.C.’s Reagan National Airport, significant restrictions have applied to general aviation operations since 9/11. The Transportation Security Administration allows only 48 general aviation flights into Reagan daily from gateway airports approved under the DCA Access Standard Security Program (DASSP). [For a list of these airports, see the version of this article at —Ed.]

To qualify, an operator and its host FBO must be vetted by the TSA. Don’t expect to call the TSA and get the necessary permissions the same day or even the same week you want to fly if you are not already part of the program. The approval process includes a fingerprint check of the flight crew and enhanced background screening for passengers. (If they hold identification from the TSA’s PreCheck and U.S. Customs’s Trusted Traveler programs, it makes the process a little easier.) 

Each flight into the airport must have an armed security officer aboard who has been trained and approved by the agency. This could be a member of your corporate security staff or an off-duty law-enforcement officer. The officer must be nominated by a DASSP-approved company (or one whose approval is pending). He or she must also meet certain eligibility criteria and complete an application process that includes background, criminal history and employment verification checks. The officer must then complete two days of training conducted by the Federal Air Marshal Service and must be credentialed by the TSA. 

Passenger and crew manifests must be submitted 24 hours before each flight and the start and end dates of the trip must be noted. Prequalified crew can be substituted under certain circumstances. At the gateway airports and at Reagan, the TSA will inspect passengers, crew, luggage and aircraft. This takes time, so plan accordingly. And keep in mind that the TSA reserves the right to cancel your flight at any time for any reason. Remember, you need an FAA slot reservation to fly into Reagan. 

To enroll in the security program, e-mail —M.H.

What your security plan should include

Whether you’re traveling domestically or abroad, it makes sense to have a good security plan. Here’s what you need to do, according to the corporate aviation security experts with whom we spoke: 

1. Research the destination. Take into account risks and emergency resources en route and at the destination. 

2. Have a security coordinator back home who monitors the trip and can provide assistance and access to resources as needed. 

3. Make sure every member of the trip party has an emergency number to call that is monitored 24/7 and that those in the group check regularly with the home base. 

4. Select someone to be a central point of contact on the trip or for designated portions of it. Make sure this person has access to real-time in-country information about impediments like riots, political demonstrations, traffic accidents and road closures. 

5. Find a trustworthy local security partner, either directly or through your handling service or security services provider. Such a partner can be invaluable in assessing hotel and ground-route security. 

6. Determine trigger points for changes in security footings and evacuations. Allow for contingencies such as use of alternate airports and ground ­routings, fuel-tankering policies and how to expeditiously secure supplemental lift. 

7. Run a tabletop exercise based on the plan with trip participants before and/or during the trip. 

8. Debrief each trip, especially if a security-related event has occurred. Incorporate lessons learned into future plans. —M.H

What’s the real risk? 

Attacks against high-profile government targets by small aircraft or their use as terrorist vehicles are extremely rare, but not unheard of. In 1974 U.S. Army private Robert Preston stole a Huey helicopter and flew it onto the White House grounds, landing after being shot up by the Secret Service. Twenty years later, Frank Eugene Corder got drunk, stole a little two-seat Cessna 150 and crashed it into the side of the executive mansion, doing little damage other than killing himself and a tree. In 2010 a disgruntled taxpayer crashed his Piper Cherokee into the Internal Revenue Service building in Austin, Texas, killing himself and a government employee. 

Corporate aircraft have almost never been used in terrorist attacks. In fact, the last such incident occurred in 1932, when a trio protesting the Constitutional Revolution in Brazil hijacked a Sikorsky S-38 flying boat and tried to fly it. (None were pilots and it didn’t turn out well.) 

There’s a reason such events rarely occur. Owners of multimillion-dollar business aircraft tend to keep them under lock and key and thoroughly vet the comparatively small number of people who fly, work on and ride in them. Also keeping an eye on these operations are their insurers and the government, which now checks pilot medical applications against criminal databases. 

The airlines have always presented a larger terrorism risk. High-profile incidents occurred during the 1970s and ’80s with such flights as Air France 139 in 1976 (which led to the famous Operation Entebbe airport rescue in Uganda), Malaysian Airlines 653 in 1977 (when the airplane was intentionally crashed, killing all 100 aboard) and EgyptAir 648 in 1985 (when 60 died as troops stormed the airplane). And then came 9/11, which of course also involved airliners.

In the months following that horrible event, however, elements of the U.S. government took almost a reactionary tone when dealing with general aviation, causing related businesses to lose an estimated $400 million. For six months, three Maryland airports closed for security reasons, given their proximity to the Capitol. Months later, business owners and pilots based at these airports were given a meeting with the Secret Service. The agent-in-charge was unsympathetic, telling the frustrated audience, “Your aircraft or any aircraft can be a delivery system for chemical or biological agents.” —M.H.

International security requires extra vigilance

Independent of government mandates, individual aircraft operators are showing a greater interest in security, especially on international flights, which pose the greatest risks, notes Tracie Jones, a security specialist at handling company Universal Weather and Aviation. Jones says that increasing dangers abroad have prompted more charter companies to request security briefings and toughen policies, even though doing so increases passenger costs. 

Universal maintains a security database and offers its clients various levels of intelligence, including a country brief, a city-specific brief, an airport-specific brief and a hotel brief. It provides risk routing on the ground as part of the hotel brief. “People need to be a little more cautious, especially when they are flying to a location more than once, even close to their hotels,” Jones emphasizes. 

The company partners with outside intelligence firms to collect the most recent information and rates countries on a 1-to-5 scale, with 5 being the most dangerous. (The U.S. currently ranks 2.) Countries that rate higher on the scale also tend to have more arbitrary policies and fees when it comes to aircraft movements, Jones notes. 

A good country security risk-assessment requires multiple layers of input from a variety of sources, including the U.S. State Department, in-house security departments, security vendors, ground-handlers, clients and partners in-country, employees and FBOs, says Denio Alvarado, who used to do covert security planning for Air Force One. Alvarado, who now works as head of global security for MedAire, a health and travel safety services firm, emphasizes the importance of having local knowledge about which airport to use, where to park on the airport, how much fuel to keep on the airplane, whether to hire local security to guard the aircraft and even when to visit a country. 

“Having an airplane guarded on the ramp may make the owner feel good,” he says, “but if it is the only aircraft being guarded on the ramp, you’re increasing visibility. Don’t spend the money—decrease visibility. If you absolutely have to do it, do so as clandestinely as you can or move the aircraft to a location where it is not as visible. 

“You need to be in control during all phases of the trip,” he cautions. “Face it, you’re not going to blend in in Papua, New Guinea [especially] when you arrive in a $62 million aircraft.” —M.H.

Mark Huber, a private pilot and longtime BJT contributor, writes the magazine’s aircraft reviews.