General aviation airports heed FBI warning

September 5, 2011 9:11:48 PM PDT
With the tenth anniversary of 9/11 less than a week away, general aviation airports around the Bay Area are heeding FBI warnings that al Qaida may be plotting an attack using small planes.

The latest FBI warning about possible terrorist activity involving small planes has the owner of a Livermore flight school on high alert, but otherwise it's business as usual.

"Do we worry about things happening as we approach the tenth anniversary of 9/11? Yes. But does it really change how we do business and how we operate? Not really," said Rich Perkins, owner of Attitude Aviation.

A retired air force lieutenant colonel, Perkins says a lot did change after September 11. Though the attacks that day involved large commercial jets, there was information that the hijackers had trained on small planes, and there was a realization that even a Cessna could be weapon in the wrong hands.

Now every pilot and prospective student is run through a series of background checks.

"The TSA regularly inspects our rolls and the people that we work with and our students at our flight school operation to make sure they are screened, vetted and that they are not terrorists," said Perkins.

Physical security around Bay Area airfields has been heightened. Tall fences have replaced low ones, security cameras are a common sight, and gates are shut tight and locked.

There's also an added measure of scrutiny from the pilots themselves.

"Since 9/11, all the pilots actually look out if there's some people around," said pilot Ferdinand Seemann. "We're very, very cautious now."

The Livermore fleet includes several ex-military aircraft, but the owner says they pose less of a threat than modern small planes.

"The good news in terms of a terrorist threat is that all of these airplanes have been de-militarized," said Perkins. "They cannot carry weapons, they can't drop bombs, they can't shoot rockets or anything like that anymore."

Not to mention, without modern instrumentation, they're really difficult to fly.

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