TSA Burbank Hearing Draws an Unhappy 300

Jan 27, 2009
Fred George fred_george@aviationweek.com

There was vocal agreement the six dozen-plus who spoke among the 300+ people who attended the Transportation Security Administration’s fourth public hearing regarding its proposed Large Aircraft Security Program hearing that was held in Burbank on Friday. They said the meeting’s nearly one-hour delay was emblematic of TSA’s ignorance of the importance of time to business aircraft operators and how business aircraft are used as tools to improve the productivity of company employees.

“I flew myself up to this meeting this morning and managed to get here on time,” said Rich Martindell, a retired USAF lieutenant colonel who works at a general aviation training services provider in San Diego. “What a clear and convincing testimonial about TSA’s disrespect for our time,” said one of Martindell’s business colleagues.

“Your court reporter was an hour late. But we have to depart on time,” said Tom Fleming, head of the aviation department at Airflite in Long Beach.

Gary Bosstick, president of Jetbed, Inc., and a CJ3 operator based at Carlsbad’s McClelland-Palomar airport, said he was forced to leave before he could voice his comments because of the delay in the proceedings. Similarly, GAMA President Peter Bunce had to leave to catch a commercial airline flight before he could testify.

If implemented, LASP will expand commercial air carrier-like security requirements to apply to all Part 91 operations of U.S.-registered private aircraft with maximum takeoff weights greater than 12,500 lb. Operators would have to develop an approved security program, fingerprint and conduct background checks for pilots, vet each passenger prior to each flight against a TSA terrorist threat watch, undergo a 24-month audit performed by a third-party auditor, prohibit carriage of most tools, equipment and sporting gear in the cabin, and even carry armed sky marshals in some cases.

Operators believe that LASP, if implemented as proposed, has the potential to cripple, if not kill, an industry that employs more than one million people and contributes more than $150-billion to the U.S. economy.

“We all value security, but we also value liberty,” said John King co-chairman of King Schools. “The proposed regulations will result in a significant sacrifice of liberty without a gain in security. . . We are not going to allow an unknown person into our airplane, even at the point of a gun. We learned from 9/11 that the days of complying with hijackers, and [surviving] the experience, are over.”

King asserted that the proposed LASP rules were unenforceable because they depend largely on voluntary compliance. “Terrorists will not comply and there is no practical and effective way to enforce their compliance.”

“LASP treats everybody as a suspect. We’ve carried former presidents. We know who is in the back of our airplanes,” said Tim Slater assistance chief pilot at Oakland-based KaiserAir.

Capt. LaPonda Fitchpatrick, commanding officer of the Van Nuys division of the Los Angeles Airport Police pointed out that LASP cannot be enforced at hundreds of small community airports where there are no fences and no gates. “It seems that this regulation put the cart before the horse . . . [it] ignores the ground and ramp workers or other people that will have access to aircraft. . . What we do not find in this regulation is perimeter fence or access control requirements which are the cornerstones of aviation security.”

A commenter from Nevada said that small airports don’t have the budgets to comply with LASP requirements 24 / 7. He believed LASP’s impact could be more far reaching than just inconveniencing business travelers. “What about an air ambulance operator with a Learjet 35 making a life critical pick-up at a small airport?” He explained that the airport might be unavailable because it lacked the required security infrastructure.

One of King’s associates commented that LASP is “security theater,” a feel-good program to pacify a public traumatized by terror strikes in foreign lands. Martindell also commented that LASP comes at a time “when local governments, corporations and individuals can ill afford to be spending money on placeboes.” TSA estimates the cost of LASP to be about $1-billion during a ten-year period. Martindell said that similar federal mandates historically cost four times the initial estimate.

“We cannot help but wonder why the TSA has chosen at this juncture to publicly promulgate a policy that in essence attempts to overlay convoluted commercial aviation security protocols onto a private activity without first speaking to its users and those that safeguard it,” said Fitchpatrick.

Several people pointed out the differences between general aviation and commercial airline operations. “We use our three aircraft to remain competitive, balancing both time and security,” said Fred Gammon, head of Qualcomm’s flight operations. “Our people use our aircraft because they believe security is inadequate on commercial airlines.” Gammon said his firm employs former Secret Service, TSA, FBI and other law enforcement professionals on its security team. He said that TSA’s proposed requirement for third-party auditors has the potential “to breach our own security.”

“This is a listening session to hear your comments,” said Nick Acheson, TSA’s senior economist, regulatory development and economic analysis, who moderated the event. The audience, though, wasn’t convinced. “It’s just window dressing,” said the head of one trade association. “They’ve already made up their minds regarding the rule.”

“This is not a question and answer session. The panelists will not debate policy,” said Acheson. However, Dominique Caridi, TSA’s director of regulatory development and economic analysis, did ask several people who commented to document about the economic impact of the proposed rules. Caridi’s request for comments regarding the LASP’s economic impact was virtually the only issue raised by the four TSA panelists. The need to achieve enhanced security while facilitating operations wasn’t addressed. Civil liberty issues regarding the right to travel freely within the continental U.S. were concerns voiced by many who commented at the hearing. TSA officials did not respond.

“Are we to believe that the Patriot Act now trumps the U.S. Constitution?” asked one participant during a lunch break. “They know they have the power to kill our operations. We can’t let that happen.”

“It’s all about jobs, jobs and jobs,” said NBAA President Ed Bolen. If TSA gets that message, then Bolen hopes TSA will withdraw the LASP rule its current form and sit down with all major stakeholders in an Aviation Rulemaking Committee to hammer out a solution that’s more acceptable to business aircraft operators.

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