A lot of air has passed over the wings of GA aircraft since 9/11 and that is a good thing considering how our freedom was so quickly taken away from us on that fateful day.
Common sense eventually prevailed and we were permitted to fly again. Although no terrorist threat using a GA aircraft has occurred in Canada since then, it does not mean that we can let down our guard, if for no other reason than to calm the fears of non-aviators and government officials who feel the need to put more security measures in place than already exist.
At this 10-year point it helps to emphasize where this issue has gone and where it will likely go as well as refresh ourselves on measures we should continue to employ.
In my COPA Flight article in January 2002 (also reprinted in Transport Canada’s Aviation Safety Letter http://www.tc.gc.ca/eng/civilaviation/publications/tp185-3-02-menu-3707.htm ), I introduced the concept of a neighbourhood watch for aircraft and airports that consists of common sense measures that everyone involved in GA should be incorporating into our daily activities at airports.
They include control of ignition keys, better supervision of students, sign-out procedures, establishing positive identification of all renters and students, having parents or guardians co-sign for teen students before they take flying lessons, improved securing of unattended aircraft, placing prominent signs near areas of public access warning against tampering with or unauthorized use of aircraft, posting emergency telephone numbers so that people may report suspicious activity such as 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. All of these recommendations from 2002 remain relevant today.
The security regulatory effort has been concentrated on airlines and their passengers and more recently on cargo and other commercial operations. COPA has been involved in virtually all regulatory meetings and on occasions when GA has been brought up for discussion, we have reminded proponents of increasing security for our sector that the nature of our sector is such that it would be very difficult if not impossible to impose airline-like measures on our sector.
A more practical approach involving awareness, education and voluntary measures is the way to go.
GA security enhancements have already occurred in these past 10 years. The first and perhaps most onerous was the introduction of no-fly zones around significant events such as G8, G20, Olympics and dignitary visitors and permanent no-fly zones are in place around the Parliament buildings and Governor General’s residence in Ottawa.
There is a warning in the Aeronautical Information Manual http://www.tc.gc.ca/eng/civilaviation/publications/tp14371-rac-2-0-2599.htm#2-9-3 that circling nuclear power installations may result in interception.
Our licences have transitioned to temper resident photo ID passport-like booklets. Access to sterile areas in and around terminal buildings has become more difficult for our sector and security measures for accessing GA ramp areas at airports have been increased at all airports.
There have been a few security incidents in the past 10 years, such as the mentally ill person in Thunder Bay whostole a 172 and flew to the U.S. expecting to be shot down and incursions into restricted airspace because of pilot error, but the use of small aircraft as a terrorist weapon has not occurred in Canada.
So, do we need additional measures? That has been a matter of debate in recent months as Transport Canada’s attention has finally turned their attention to GA with such statements as contained in the CATSA website www.tc.gc.ca/eng/aviationsecurity/page-189.htm .
According to classified sources of information, we are told that GA is still on the minds of terrorists so Transport Canada feels the need to study our sector further.
Through COPA’s efforts over the years, the government is at least sensitive to the difficulty in enhancing security measures as reflected in this statement from the CATSA site:
“Transport Canada is continuing to examine what oversight and measures are needed to appropriately address the risk within general aviation and FBO operations, working with the general aviation community. At the same time, Transport Canada acknowledges that any regulation of the general aviation sector will need to be appropriate to the level of risk, while also ensuring that the economic viability of the industry and comparability to our international partners is maintained.”
The key word here is “risk” and that has become the focus of the GA Security Working Group on which COPA participates. The group is working its way through assessing the risk and developing mitigation measures that achieves not only enhanced security but also recognizes the need to make them practical, affordable and not out of line with other nations.
As we work our way through the risk process, it is very important that we all remain vigilant. A security threat, perceived or real, involving a GA aircraft would not help our cause at all. It is far too easy to knee-jerk in response to an event, resulting in significant and permanent restrictions or prohibitions to our freedom to fly.
The best thing we all can do is to continue to employ the neighbourhood watch program that COPA suggested in 2002. If you don’t think you need to do anything, just think back to September 2001 when our freedom to fly was suddenly and completely taken away. It returned gradually but to this day has not entirely returned to pre-9/11 levels.
It can happen again, either through a gradual instruction of measures or suddenly in response to a real or perceived threat.