Small aircraft security comes under question

August 11, 2008 5:50:35 PM PDT
The Transportation Security Administration wants to toughen security rules for small airports and thousands of private planes. The proposed regulations are being developed, after Homeland Security raised concerns about terrorists loading private jets with explosives.

Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff says there are about 15,000 private and corporate jets that fly in and out of small airports and terminals that have little or no security. He says small jets can be vulnerable to terrorists who can use them in an attack and he wants security on small planes increased.

"More security is a good thing," says Eric Prevar, owner of an airline food company.

Eric Prevar's company supplies food for the passengers on private and corporate jets at Signature Aviation at SFO. He's seen security increase, but says more is better.

"Back in the old days, we used to take our personal vehicles out on the ramp, so I definitely noticed improved security, which I say is a good thing," says Prevar.

Signature at SFO and Kaiser Aviation in Oakland are just two of the businesses at 4,700 general aviation airports across the country that will be affected by the changes.

The Transportation Security Administration along with Homeland Security had established some voluntary security measures for the private terminals. Still, they now plan mandatory security practices that just stop short of passenger screening.

The TSA wants to "Establish firm baseline security requirements across the industry that would be applicable to thousands of private aircraft in addition to chartered flights," says Nico Melendez, a TSA spokesman.

Their concern is that terrorists could still hijack a plane load it with explosives and fly it into a building. The new rules would apply to jets that weigh in excess of 12,500 pounds. There are about 15,000 of those planes now in service.

ABC7 Aviation Consultant Ron Wilson says even a small plane could be dangerous.

"You could put enough explosives on that small plane to do some serious, serious damage," says Wilson.

Wilson says that many too many terminals have little or no security.

"Most airports, there are a few, but most airports do not screen their passengers, do not care much about the airplanes," said Wilson.

The TSA says they would require background checks on flight crews, parked planes in secure areas, and increase plane inspections. The Bay Area airports that would be affected along with the three international airports are Hayward, Livermore, Napa, Santa Rosa, and Concord.

Homeland Security says these measures are about a year away and meanwhile, they're going to have to rely on all of the general aviation businesses to increase security on their own.


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