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"Small Airport Security"
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- Subject: CAA: GA News, "Small Airport Security"
- From: "Stephen Irwin" <stepheni@xxxxxxxxx>
- Date: Mon, 6 Jan 2003 19:59:12 -0800
- Reply-To: "Stephen Irwin" <stepheni@xxxxxxxxx>
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Sunday, January 5, 2003
Small Airport Security
By Paul Floeckher
Security has increasingly tightened at commercial airports, but what about
at small, non-commercial airports?
That question came up again Sunday after a man stole a single-engine plane
in Frankfurt, Germany, and threatened to fly it into downtown buildings
before landing safely. It was one year to the day after a 15-year-old took a
plane from a private airport near Tampa, Fla., and flew it into a bank
According to the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association, small airports are
basically left to look out for themselves. Because the cost of heightened
security is so high and the risk of a threat at those airports is considered
minimal, small airports have to use their own eyes and ears.
So, pilots look out for each other at airports like the one on Lady's Island
in Beaufort County. Douglas Carmody runs a flight school there, and he says
a family-type atmosphere makes Lady's Island Airport an unlikely target for
a small-plane hijacking.
"It's very similar to the neighborhood watch, where the local pilots get
together and keep an eye on each other's planes," Carmody said. "At an
airport this size, everybody here knows each other, so it's not really a
problem with security."
Even so, the airport has several security measures in place -- such as a
video camera overlooking the parking lot, regular police patrols, and a new
policy put in place after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.
"We don't let our students out to the airplane with the key anymore unless
an instructor is with them," Carmody said.
But there are still flaws in the system. For example, the airport's office
is staffed for only 12 hours each day. By law, the airport's barbed wire
fence does not have to surround the entire airport -- and it doesn't. A gate
to the airport is closed at night, but it stays unlocked so the owners of
the planes can have access to them at any time.
But, Carmody says, even better security would not stop someone determined to
hijack a plane.
"If somebody comes up and hijacks a car and puts a gun to your head, you're
going to let them have your car. I'm sure everybody here would do the same
if somebody came and put a gun to our head and tried to take an airplane,"
said Carmody, who is also a veteran commercial pilot with US Airways.
Additional security at small airports would take more money -- money that
airport leaders say they don't have and the federal goverment is unwilling
to give. So, non-commercial airports will have to continue to provide their
"If somebody is bent on stealing an airplane, it is possible," Carmody said.
"At an airport like this, the person would have to have a lot of local
knowledge. He would have to know how to get into the airplane and how to
secure the keys to get the airplane. He'd also have to know how to fly the
A plane taken from a small airport would cause minimal damage in a crash.
Carmody points to his own airplane, which is made of aluminum and has only a
28-gallon fuel tank.
The students in Carmody's flight school do not go through background checks.
However, they must pass a physical and mental evaluation by a doctor
certified by the Federal Aviation Administration.
Post your opinion on this story in the CAA General Aviation Forum
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