Securing General Aviation: Proactive Steps

Unlike commercial aviation, the general aviation industry is not subject to stringent security regulations regarding passengers, cargo and airside access. However, security risks still exist and due diligence should be a fundamental part of this industry’s operations. Jeffrey C. Price and Jeffrey S. Forrest provide an overview of current developments and considerations concerning the role of general aviation airports in securing themselves from terrorist and criminal threats.

At the 2012 American Association of Airport Executives’ Annual Conference held in Phoenix, Arizona, Robert Olislagers, Ph.D., Director of Centennial Airport in Colorado, described how general aviation (GA) security directors can become involved in the U.S. Terrorism Liaison Officer (TLO) programme. A TLO functions as the designated point of contact for a public safety agency in matters related to terrorism information. The TLO programme is an offshoot of the Homeland Security State and Local Intelligence Fusion Centres created after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, and subsequently implemented throughout the U.S.

Olislagers said that as a designated TLO, the GA director can access the counterterrorism community and some of the intelligence information available for protecting an airport facility from an attack or from an attack being launched from their airport. In response to his point, an individual in the audience indicated that they felt serving as a designated TLO was an unnecessary burden to the GA airport director since collecting and disseminating information related to crime and terrorism should be a law enforcement agency responsibility.
Olislagers, along with many of the airport directors and officials at the conference disagreed with this position. GA airport directors are responsible for many roles and areas of an airport, including providing a safe operating location for aircraft, handling environmental issues, fiduciary responsibilities, obstruction and land use issues, and a seemingly endless list of other items. GA airports usually don’t have security directors so the focus is on the breadth of responsibilities of the GA airport director.

Why would security be exempt from this list? Why would a GA airport director not feel a professional obligation to seek and hold designation as a TLO?

Recently, at the Van Nuys Airport in California, a corporate aircraft was ’tagged’ (sprayed with graffiti). While the graffiti was quickly removed, the following legal question remains – does the airport operator have a responsibility to protect the property and persons on their airport? Acknowledging that those responsibilities do exist, then serving as a designated TLO, would demonstrate an added level in performing due diligence as a responsible GA security director.

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