TSA security plan worries aircraft owners in Alaska

Rule would require small planes to implement same security measures as commercial flights

Posted: Tuesday, February 17, 2009

A new Transportation Security Administration proposal has Alaska pilots and aircraft owners concerned that their aircraft will be overregulated, and may force them to quit flying and scrap their planes.

The proposal, dubbed the large aircraft security program, would require the owners of aircraft that have a gross weight of 12,500 pounds or more to implement the same security measures used on commercial passenger and air cargo aircraft in the United States.

The regulation would require pilots and their mechanics to have criminal background checks, check passengers against the federal "no fly" list, and that flights using these aircraft - both commercially and privately flown - be approved before each departure.

The rule would also require some aircraft to carry federal air marshals if directed to by the TSA.

The proposal would also require any airport that hosts these aircraft to have on staff a trained TSA officer and the necessary equipment to screen passengers and crew.

Alaska airports that would be affected by the proposal include Aniak, Dutch Harbor, Galena, Merrill Field, Palmer, Kenai, Lake Hood and Unalakleet and other rural airports used by aircraft for business, commercial and private use.

TSA officials would not reply to specifics about the proposed rule.

"The only thing that I can say is that we are hoping to learn more about the concerns of the aviation community about this anti-terrorism regulation for aircraft from comments posted on the NPRM docket (notice of proposed rule making)," said a spokesperson for the TSA.

The 260-page proposal, finalized in October 2008 by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, says the government should consider all aircraft, from 747s to hot air balloon, to be potential threats, according to the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association, which opposes the rule.

The costs to conform to such mandates is the main concern for the owners of the aircraft affected. Security measures to facilities could cost as much as $400,000 per airport, according to state DOT officials. Aircraft owners would have to pay for passenger and other security checks.

If the regulation passes, Bush Air Cargo pilot Don Ballard says his airplane would be scrap metal. Ballard flies building materials, supplies and mining equipment to remote locations with a DC-3 aircraft from the Palmer airport.

Aircraft used to fly freight and cargo, business charters and medevacs would be affected.

Lee Ryan, the chairman of the Governor's Advisory Board on Aviation, said direct impacts of the overall aviation industry in Alaska represents $4 billion, making it the fifth largest industry in the state.

"This will have impacts in an already stressed industry," Ryan said.

Another pilot and private aircraft owner agrees.

"The large aircraft security program will impose new and onerous security regulations and restrictions on owners, operators, pilots, and passengers, flying in these privately owned aircraft and at medium and large airports that serve large aircraft," said Lars Gleitsmann, an aircraft owner.

Gleitsmann and 29 others gathered on Feb. 5 at the Alaska Aviation Heritage Museum in Anchorage to discuss how to approach the Alaska congressional delegation to stop this regulation from becoming law.

If security upgrades at one airport can't be made, owners will have to move their aircraft to airports that meet the TSA requirements.

"This proposal is ludicrous," said John Reffertt, a Palmer resident and co-owner of two C-119 Flying Boxcars that are parked on the Palmer municipal airport's ramp. "This will force me to move the C-119s, where I am paying $200 a month, to Anchorage international - if they will take the aircraft - where I will have to pay $2,000 or more a month to park them."

The TSA estimates that the LASP will cost $190 billion to secure approximately 10,000 aircraft in the nation, and says that aircraft owners will pay for 85 percent of the program.

This amounts to nearly $190,000 per aircraft to create a security program for each aircraft approved by the TSA, criminal background checks of pilots, mechanics and dispatchers, biannual audits of the program, the cost of air marshals, and third-party audits of the passengers and travel authorization, according to estimates by the National Business Aircraft Association.

The regulations would affect an estimated 15,000 aircraft, 10,000 operators, and 450 airports nationwide. In Alaska, about 100 aircraft used for freight owned by 25 separate owners would be affected.

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