GA Security Coming Under The Microscope


“As an urgent priority, all passengers and carry-on and checked baggage boarding flights at FBOs and GA facilities that feed into designated airports (the 89 major airports in Canada) or are attached to designated airports (such as the north field at Ottawa airport or the GA area in Regina) should be screened to a level comparable to passenger and baggage screening for scheduled commercial flights.”

“The aviation security requirements for FBOs and GA facilities should be governed by legislation.”

These are words taken from the recently released report from the Commission of Inquiry into the bombing of Air India Flight 182.

You are probably wondering what the Air India bombing has to do with GA security. Well, there is a sentiment among some security experts that since the aviation security enhancements following 9/11 have largely focused on regularly scheduled commercial aviation, terrorist groups may refocus their efforts toward other sectors of aviation and the experts also feel that the lower security posture at GA facilities that share an airport with the airline operations poses a risk that should be addressed.

So it does not surprise me that there would be a link between an airline bombing and GA, at least in some people’s minds.

I gave the above example to illustrate that GA security remains an issue and I would like to take this opportunity to review what COPA has done to protect our interests, what is on our plate now and the continuing importance for every pilot in our sector of aviation to remain vigilant, not only to prevent unlawful acts but also to calm the perception that our sector poses a security risk.

Soon after 9/11, our counterpart in the U. S., AOPA, developed some common sense provisions aimed at flight schools and FBOs. They were responding to a copycat incident where a student pilot stole an aircraft in Tampa and flew into a building. The measures included keeping aircraft locked, controlling aircraft keys and watching for and reporting suspicious activity. Many of these measures were also relevant to private aircraft operations, so they promoted them to their members and they also got TSA acceptance and federal funding for the Airport Watch program, including a dedicated toll free reporting line for incidents, signage for airports etc.

At one of the first Canadian security meetings held after 9/11, COPA endorsed the U.S. measures and the concept of a security partnership and funding like in the U.S. and we called for implementation in Canada so that GA could be seen to be doing our part for enhanced security.

The recommendation was rejected because it was “too simple” and there was no funding available.

COPA went ahead anyway with publishing these common sense measures and encouraged members to put them into practice. A copy of those measures can be found on our website: www.copanational. org under the heading “Did You Know” and sub-heading “Safety Issues.”

Since that time GA security has come up for discussion at several security meetings in which I participated, and each time a proposal was put on the table that could affect GA, I provided reasoning for why it would not be practical to proceed as proposed. Typically, the proposal was not given sufficient thought regarding how it would significantly impair our sector. There have been incremental improvements, however, such as the introduction of the new passport-like pilot document with enhanced security features, which we then used to successfully argue for continuation of a pilot licence as adequate identification for gaining access to restricted areas of airports.

The focus to this point in time has been on airline operations and to some extent the security officials have been preoccupied with reacting to a series of terrorist events involving the airlines, so there has not been proper time devoted to assessing the risks from our sector and developing practical and achievable measures, until now.

Statements made like those from the Air India report, combined with measures being introduced elsewhere in the world, have raised the profile of GA security here to the point where Transport Canada has formed a working group to address GA security.

I welcome the opportunity for a formal process for assessing the real risks rather than perceptions and mitigating them where practical to do so. It is far better for a reasoned debate and development of measures than to knee-jerk with a net effect of barring our sector from many airports.

I want us to be seen to be part of a security network rather than perceived as a weak link. But this comes at a certain cost to our freedom and a cost to the government who will hopefully step up to the plate and fund any costly measures.

COPA will do its best to work through this security challenge but members have an equal role to play. Common sense dictates that in order to keep the spotlight away from us we all have to do our part to prevent the perception or the reality that we can be used for destructive purposes. It is not simply enough to say that our aircraft are too small to do any real damage. Paranoia alone will counter that argument.

Lock your aircraft if it can be, do not leave keys where they can easily be stolen, lock your hangar, employ prop locks or other disabling devices where possible, challenge strangers who are where they should not be, and report suspicious activity.

It is a different world but we have so far been able to continue our freedom of flight. Let’s all do our part to keep it that way.