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New TSA Airports Initiative Raises Major Concerns

February 25, 2009 — As more details of a Transportation Security Administration (TSA) airport-security program come to light, a troubling picture begins to emerge of yet another unnecessary threat to aviators’ freedoms. An airport-security directive that the TSA has been holding close to its vest has provoked objections from EAA and other general aviation groups.

Although TSA and its parent organization, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), have shared little information about these airport security initiatives with general aviation operators, TSA evidently has engaged in communications with the airports. From there, news of the impending “reforms” has trickled into the general aviation pilot community, and pilots have been alerting EAA to their concerns.

The directive appear to apply to users of airports that have scheduled air carrier service, even if only a single scheduled arrival or departure. In short, the directive requires each of these airports to implement programs requiring security badges and background checks for all pilots based there, and for other airport personnel who have unescorted access to the airport.

Furthermore, some evidence suggests that TSA might expand the requirements to include FAA-designated reliever airports, where there is no scheduled airline service.

In response to the outcry from EAA and the other aviation groups, TSA has pushed a looming airport compliance deadline back to June 1, 2009, and in the interim has agreed to meet with representatives of the groups.

Some of the emerging information on the directive suggests a problematic lack of standardization. The airports would adopt their own specific programs, placing an unwieldy burden on pilots to know the compliance procedures and requirements at each airport to which the pilot flies.

Members of EAA’s advocacy staff are among the industry representatives with whom TSA has pledged to meet. “We’ll emphasize the importance of readily available access for general aviation pilots and aircraft owners,” said Earl Lawrence, EAA’s vice president of industry and regulatory affairs. “The TSA’s proposals exceed the bounds of a security directive by expanding existing air carrier security programs to a whole new community of operators. We believe that significant changes in the scope of TSA’s programs require a deliberative rulemaking process, including the opportunity for those with a major stake in the outcome to provide comment.”

EAA’s regulatory affairs staff encourages members to e-mail accounts of firsthand experiences of any newly implemented security procedures at their home airports. “This reporting will help to expand our understanding of the TSA’s intent and the airports’ interpretation of it. It will also alert us to any premature measures being adopted before TSA has an opportunity to consider the industry groups’ input and possibly revise its position,” Lawrence said.

EAA members may report revised security measures by sending e-mail to: govt@eaa.org.

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