While the security involving most commercial flights and aircraft has been increased considerably since the abhorrent events of September 11, 2001, recent news headlines have, unfortunately, posed the question of whether or not smaller general aviation aircraft may pose a potential terrorist risk.
The apparently deliberate attack using a small aircraft on an Austin, Texas, office building by a pilot, who had an alleged grudge against the IRS, has once again put the bright spotlight on this controversial issue.
Prior to this terrible and deadly Texas incident, there has been a minor history of attempts to use a small aircraft in a menacing manner.
A few years ago, a man who was reported to have emotional issues threatened to crash his glider-like aircraft into a German high-rise.
During 2002, an allegedly intentional incident occurred in which a teenager piloted a stolen Cessna into a downtown Tampa bank building.
Fortunately, to date, these general aviation crashes have resulted in a relatively small number of casualties and a moderate amount of property damage.
So the question is: Is general aviation a terrorist threat?
The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) issued, after the tragic Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, a Special Vigilance Alert for both civil and general aviation pilots and airports.
This alert states that the United States continues to receive credible indications that extremist individuals are planning additional terrorist operations against U.S. and Western interests.
While the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) has no credible information concerning potential attack specifics, it suggests the general aviation community should observe good physical security for aircraft and facilities, and be continuously on the lookout for suspicious persons, activities, and operations around airports.
The TSA recommends the following to help mitigate the risk by the unauthorized use of general aviation aircraft.
Your immediate action is requested for these items:
1. Secure unattended aircraft to prevent unauthorized use.
2. Verify the identification of crew and passengers prior to departure.
3. Verify that baggage and cargo are known to the persons on board.
4. Where identification systems are in place, encourage employees to wear proper identification and challenge persons not wearing identification.
Increased vigilance should be directed toward the following:
1. Aircraft with unusual or unauthorized modifications.
2. Persons loitering in the vicinity of air or air operations areas.
3. Persons who appear to be under stress or under the control of other persons.
4. Persons whose identification appears altered or inconsistent.
For more details, go to www.faa.gov.
Also, the Experimental Aircraft Association (EAA) in a Dec. 2001 news release, recommends some additional measures to enhance the security of general aviation operations, including suggestions such as:
1. Take the steps appropriate to the specific type of aircraft to secure it when unattended.
2. The TSA should evaluate creating a system to electronically compare names of persons renting or purchasing aircraft against the federal government's "watch list."
3. The TSA should develop and distribute a profile to identify individuals requiring additional scrutiny before they are allowed to buy, rent, receive pilot training, or be employed in areas where they are routinely allowed access to general aviation aircraft.
4. Using procedures it deems appropriate, the U.S. government should immediately review the existing FAA registry of all active U.S. pilots and review new pilot applicants to ensure that these individuals are not associated with or supportive of any terrorist groups.
For details, log on to www.eaa.org.
My Final Thoughts: Terrorists are, simply put, bloodthirsty, merciless thugs, without any regard for human life. As certainly documented on September 11, 2001, terrorists will go to any length to destroy our way of life and freedoms.
Maniacal terrorists may even view small aircraft as a handy tool to launch a possible biological or chemical attack.
Although this remains a highly controversial issue, it seems that even if the use of small aircraft is a negligible terrorist threat, it is just common sense that both the government and private sector should work together to take reasonable steps to help make general aviation aircraft a harder target against the potential risk posed by malicious terrorists.
Copyright 2010 by Bruce Mandelblit
Bruce (www.CrimeZilla.com) is a nationally known security and safety journalist, as well as a recently retired, highly decorated reserve law enforcement officer. His e-mail address is CrimePrevention123@yahoo.com.
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