General aviation groups are appealing to Transportation Security Administration officials to hold a series of public hearings and extend the comment period on a sweeping proposal that would impose potentially game-changing new security requirements on private operators for the first time. The Office of Management and Budget in early October cleared the proposal, but it has not yet been published in the Federal Register.
The proposal is expected to provide a 60-day comment period from the date of publication, but GA groups believe the requirements are so far-reaching that TSA officials should hear public feedback directly and have the ability to conduct a dialogue with those affected. The GA groups also hope TSA will give the groups as much time as possible to comment on the proposal.
Senior officials from several of the Washington-based GA groups aired some of their concerns to the TSA in a GA Coalition meeting this month. The TSA officials, while unable to discuss too much detail about the proposal, outlined some of the philosophies behind the proposed requirements.
The proposal would impose certain security requirements for the first time on private operators of aircraft that weigh more than 12,500 pounds. The proposal essentially folds several of the existing security requirements under one umbrella and expands the requirements to include Part 91 operators. It would require operators to implement a security program, undergo an FBI background check, vet passengers, undergo periodic audits and comply with a number of other stipulations regarding aircraft and baggage security.
The proposal has been anticipated for some time, but National Business Aviation Association President and CEO Ed Bolen expressed disappointment with the outcome. "We find it very frustrating that after the long gestation period, (TSA) ultimately came out with a proposal that is cut and pasted from their commercial rules," Bolen said "The overall response (to the proposal) is this is an over-the-top intrusion in the world of private aviation," added Andy Cebula, executive vice president of government affairs for the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association.
NBAA had hoped TSA would release a proposal that recognized the diversity of the aircraft in the GA fleet and differences in types of flight operations, but Bolen said that was not reflected in the notice of proposed rulemaking. A security rule should be prudent and significantly enhance safety, but the proposal doesn´t seem to accomplish that, he said. "There are a lot of things in this rule that don´t seem to make sense."
Bolen gave as an example a prohibited items list, which he said doesn´t make sense for private operations. Such a proposal might actually hinder operations in cases where businesses must transport certain items from factory to factory, but would be considered prohibited for typical commercial passengers, he said.
AOPA members are particularly vexed by proposed requirements on securing aircraft and clearing passengers, Cebula noted, but added they are only two of a number of troubling requirements. He questioned the necessity of an FBI-based background check for private operators. But the underlying concern, he said, is that the 12,500 pounds threshold will be just the beginning, opening the door for expanded regulations to other operators in the future.