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Keeping your aircraft secure

 

Several years ago COPA President Kevin Psutka put forth the concept of the “Neighbourhood Watch” in response to the January 2002 announcement by the United States’ FAA of new preventative measures to keep small aircraft secure.

In addition to the potential terrorist threat as a result of the events on Sept. 11, 2001, a small aircraft that was stolen and crashed into a building in Tampa, Florida highlighted the need for pilots and aircraft owners or operators to keep a watchful eye on their aircraft. A summary of the recommendations, as set forth by the FAA, was supported in a Transport Canada Aviation Safety Letter reprint of Psutka’s COPA article dated March 2002.

A recent accident involving a small aircraft in downtown New York, although not terrorist related, once again heightened fears that small aircraft could be used as a terrorist’s weapon.

The facts being what they are, to date no one has used a small aircraft in a terrorist act; nor would it be an effective way to inflict damage. However, each incident, whether or not connected with an act of terrorism, harms general aviation’s image and brings us one step closer to tighter regulation of our actions as pilots and aircraft owners.

Since it is imperative to maintain the relatively unrestrictive environment in which we fly, it is worth while to review some of the recommendations for keeping our aircraft secure.

One area in which many of us are negligent is the securing of aircraft during fuel stops and short layovers. It wasn’t until a recent trip that my brother, a Net Jets Captain, noticed I had left my aircraft open and unattended. They have strict rules about keeping their aircraft secure and they’re rules to consider!

The recommendation is a simple one. If you leave your aircraft unattended (e.g. to go inside to pay for the line servicing) you should lock it up. Most people wouldn’t think twice about not locking a car while picking up a gallon of milk at the grocery store, and that’s the kind of mentality we should consider in regard to our aircraft.

Granted, the chances of someone stealing an aircraft are extremely small, but why take the chance? I’ll be the first to admit that I have a hard time remembering to lock my aircraft up, but I’m trying to do better and you should too!

If you have one of those older aircraft with a door that no longer locks, spend a few bucks and have it repaired; if for no other reason that to keep your radio rack from disappearing!

Some of you are now thinking, “what’s the use, I can get into my aircraft with a cheater key in less than 2 minutes, so anyone else can too.” That may be so, but anything that slows down the bad guy gives the good guy more time to respond.

Another tip for short layovers or refuel stops is to keep the ignition key (if your aircraft uses one) on your person when away from the aircraft. Leaving it in the aircraft is a bad idea and leaving it in the ignition switch is even worse!

As a final fool-proof method of theft-proofing your aircraft, you may want to consider a locking control lock type device. These are difficult to get past and, as such, provide an economical deterrent.

For aircraft without control lock capability, there may be other methods of disabling the aircraft. The only word of caution here is that any form of disabling should be readily visible to the pilot so that flight will not be attempted until the aircraft is safe.

As we enter the winter season and personal flights are fewer and farther between, most of us go out to our airplane less often. Airplanes sit on ramps, in the T-hangers, and/or tied down in the grass, sometimes for a month or more between flights.

While inconvenient at times, it’s not a bad idea to check on your airplane about once every two weeks (or more frequent if possible). Beside the obvious check to assure its still were you left it, one more subtle check of the tach time will tell you if the aircraft was operated in your absence. This means you should keep track of the tach time in some sort of log.

And don’t think for a minute that no one would ever think of stealing time in your aircraft. I am aware of at least two occasions where pilots went to fly their aircraft and found that someone else had flown it without their permission. In fact, on one occasion the two FBO personnel who were stealing time were still flying the plane when the owner came out to the airport to fly.

While these “joy rides” may be harmless to an extent, they point to a more serious lack of security.

For those of you who have a hangared aircraft with an FBO, the dubious habit of leaving a set of keys with the FBO personnel should be re-evaluated.

Repositioning the aircraft is about the only thing the FBO may need to do while you’re away. As a result, with the exception of planned maintenance, there is rarely a case when the keys should be needed to reposition a small aircraft.

Leave the parking brake off (a good policy anyway) and rudder gust lock out in aircraft where there is a linkage between the nose gear and rudder pedals so that your aircraft may be moved as necessary.

Removing the extra keys from the FBO removes the temptation and the opportunity for someone to easily steal your airplane.

As a general rule for tie down and t-hanger renters, know your neighbours and keep an eye on activity in or near their aircraft as well as your own. If you see someone you don’t recognize, take note of the situation.

Most small airports have fly-in breakfasts or other such get-togethers and this is an ideal time to meet your neighbours. Who knows, you might even find a flying buddy at one of those meetings. In any event, the idea is to be able to recognize pilots based at your airport so when someone new comes along, you’ll be more observant.

Let’s not take the idea to a level of paranoia, but a little cautious observation may help keep our aircraft more secure.

One last area of potential concern is with persons wanting joy-rides. It is not uncommon for people to want to go for a ride when they find out you are a pilot with an airplane at your disposal. I’ve had many such requests and I’ve felt mighty awkward about a few of them.

My personal rule is that if I know the person, then its no problem to give them a ride. However, if I’ve just met someone on the street (so-to-speak) I don’t agree to a ride so easily.

If I plan to associate with that person after that initial meeting, I wait awhile until I know them better. If they’re in a rush, I suggest a flight school or local FBO where an instructor can take them on an introductory flight. Better to let the professionals handle these individuals.

Of course some of you are in the business and are already adept at handling these sorts of requests, so feel free to use your own judgment.  

Keeping our aircraft secure is a serious business. It is imperative that the general public sees a genuine effort on our parts to keep them secure. Let’s not give them nor the government any reason to tighten the restrictions on our flying freedoms. 

This month’s Pilot Primer is written by Donald Anders Talleur, an Assistant Chief Flight Instructor at the University of Illinois, Institute of Aviation. He holds a joint appointment with the Professional Pilot Division and Human Factors Division. He has been flying since 1984 and in addition to flight instructing since 1990, has worked on numerous research contracts for the FAA, Air Force, Navy, NASA, and Army. He has authored or co-authored over 160 aviation related papers and articles and has an M.S. degree in Engineering Psychology, specializing in Aviation Human Factors.