USA Today is reporting that the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) is planning a massive expansion which will bring general aviation under its jurisdiction for the first time. The federal agency, which came into existence after the events of September 11, 2001, sees private planes as a potential tool for terrorists, who could pack a jet with high explosives and fly it into a building.
Seen as tedious and often demeaning, the commercial airline security process, or rather the desire to avoid it, has been one factor driving travelers towards private aviation. Private jet fliers have never had to remove their shoes or place their keys and change in plastic bins. Luckily, the new TSA initiative will not include subjecting passengers to any of this yet.
Instead, new regulations will require any plane heavier than 12,500 pounds to be regulated by the TSA. Flight crews will undergo background checks, planes will have to be secured when parked or hangared and also undergo periodic inspections.
Within the private aviation industry, there are fears that the new regulations will hamper a business that thrives on offering customers fast, convenient, point-to-point travel, with a weighty bureaucratic apparatus. Those opposed to the regulations point out that there has never been any terrorist attack using general aviation aircraft. Any regulatory program targeting the 15,000 private aircraft subject to the new rules, will represent a major undertaking.
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The new TSA regulations are already followed, in one way or another, within the industry. The federal government conducts background checks for flight training on any aircraft more than 12,500 pounds. Jets, being significant investments, are already well-secured by owners against theft or tampering.
Meanwhile, more cynical industry watchers suggest that pressure from the airlines may have influenced the TSA. As airlines have struggled to maintain levels of performance and service in a more expensive post-9/11 aviation environment and era of rising fuel costs, many of first-class customers have opted for the convenience and comfort of private jet travel. After the airline industry’s effort to impose a heavier financial burden for air traffic control on private jet operators failed last summer, some industry pundits think that the airlines may have charged the TSA with leveling the playing field.
The TSA’s own efforts have frequently come under criticism from both civil liberties groups and security experts. A recent study found that TSA screeners at Los Angeles International Airport detected bomb making materials in passenger carry-on luggage only 25 percent of the time, compared to 80 percent by private security personnel at San Francisco International Airport.
Without discounting security concerns, one wonders just what problem the TSA is looking to resolve by encumbering an industry which has shown itself to be more than capable of regulating itself.
What do you think of these new TSA initiatives? Leave a comment below