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Common sense and stolen aircraft

By Kevin Psutka

15 May, 2009

 

The recent illegal entry of a Cessna 172, based in Thunder Bay, into the U.S. with a student pilot on board has raised a lot of media attention but in many respects it is a good news story.

First of all, the many authorities involved in this incident, including the military pilots involved, are to be commended for the actions they took, or more correctly, did not take.

The threat was assessed and appropriately classified such that lethal action was not taken. Several press reports indicated that the pilot was depressed and wanted to commit suicide, hoping that he would be shot down. He is reported as stating upon being captured that when it was apparent he would not be shot down, he lost his desire to commit suicide and then landed.

The authorities saved a life and saved others on the ground from danger from the consequences of shooting down the aircraft.

Other good news is that the security measures with respect to illegal entry into the U.S. were demonstrated in a real scenario and they worked.

As reported in a NORAD statement about the incident: "While many in the media wanted to talk about ‘rules of engagement’ and ‘shoot down authorities’ this puts this actual situation into the wrong context. The reality is that NORAD fighters respond frequently to situations like this nearly every week and we will continue to do so to ensure the safety and security of Canada and the United States."

The reaction to the intrusion was swift and appropriate. Although I am not privy to all of the details, it appears that it went very well.

Could this incident have been prevented? Well, it does not make sense in this era of enhanced security to ever leave an unattended aircraft with easily accessible keys. One month after the tragic events of 9/11, COPA proposed to a Transport Canada/industry working group the adoption of several measures (taken from a U.S. proposal) that addressed directly the control of keys and security of training aircraft. These measures were never adopted, but COPA publicized them anyway as ways for our sector of aviation to prevent unlawful operation of aircraft.

Finally, other good news to come out of the recent incident is that, without loss of life or damage to property, it serves as a reminder for everyone to remain vigilant, not only for everyone’s safety but to help retain our freedom to fly.

In 2004, we refreshed our members attention to the matter of security by providing an article entitled Being Vigilant – For Our Freedom to Fly in which we urged members to "do everything we can to protect our aircraft from unauthorized use and to challenge people or summon security personnel anytime we see something suspicious. It is for our collective good."

The measures listed in that 2004 article are all common sense items but, as the incident illustrated, it seems necessary to remind everyone periodically that they are still important:

  • Be on the look out for suspicious activity, e.g., transient aircraft with unusual or unauthorized modifications; persons loitering for extended periods in the vicinity of parked aircraft or in pilot lounges; pilots who appear to be under the control of another person; persons wishing to rent aircraft without presenting proper credentials or identification; persons who present apparently valid credentials but who do not display a corresponding level of aviation knowledge; any pilot who makes threats or statements inconsistent with normal uses or aircraft; or events or circumstances that do not fit the pattern of lawful, normal activity at an airport.
  • Always lock your aircraft, even if you are only away from it for a short time.
  • Consider installing an additional locking device, such as a throttle lock or propeller lock.
  • If you see something suspicious, contact the nearest security authority for assistance.

My Column in October 2001 was entitled: "How precious is our freedom" and I commented on how quickly our freedom can be taken from us. I am reminded of this each time our sector comes under the spotlight from a lapse of security.

COPA will do its part to educate the media and public about the threat (or lack thereof) that we pose, but we all have a role to play in keeping the spotlight away from us.