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"Security spotty at smaller airports, study finds"



Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Security spotty at smaller airports, study finds
By John Nolan and Chelsey Levingston 
The Middletown (OH) Journal


Security at smaller airports around the country is spotty or even
nonexistent, with many airports lacking lighting around their boundaries and
many failing to have perimeter fencing that completely encircles the
airfield, investigators for Congress found.

The U.S. Government Accountability Office, which conducts audits and
investigations at the request of Congress, said its staff found "potential
vulnerabilities" that could allow unauthorized access to aircraft or airport
grounds or equipment at 10 of 13 airports visited around the nation between
April 2010 and May 2011. The agency did not publicly identify the airports
it visited.

None of the 10 general aviation airports - which does not include commercial
or other scheduled passenger and cargo operations - had lighting along their
perimeters, GAO investigators wrote in the report requested by the U.S.
Senate's Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, nearly 10 years
after the 2001 terrorist attacks.

However, security locally at the Butler County Regional Airport is not lax,
said Ron Davis, airport administrator.

"We can always be more secure, but what we have right now suffices for the
operations we have," he said.

The county-owned airport in Hamilton in 2002 finished installing perimeter
fencing to enclose roughly 300 acres. It also has some security cameras and
lighting throughout the airport grounds, Davis said. There are electronic
gates that give hangar owners and certain people access to their hangars and
the air operations area, and a program called Airport Watch, a neighborhood
watch program common in general aviation, asks airport users to report any
suspicious activity, Davis said.

Also, charter operators and other operations have their own their security
measures mandated by the Federal Aviation Administration, such as background
checks on customers, he said.

The GAO report acknowledged that the U.S. Transportation Security
Administration does not require general aviation-only airports to implement
security measures including fencing, lights and cameras, and issues only
guidance recommending these.

"Our assessments are not meant to imply that any of the 13 airports we
visited have failed to implement required security measures," the GAO told
Congress.

Middletown Regional Airport/Hook Field is gated except for a part along
Carmody Boulevard, which is hoped to be finished in the next year or so
depending on Federal Aviation Administration funding, said Rich Bevis,
airport manager.

Other security measures at the airport include lighting, security cameras,
and planes mostly locked up in hangars, Bevis said. Middletown police patrol
airport property two to three times a night, he said.

"If you see something strange, first thing you do is go over and ask them
who they are," he said. "I've been very happy with the security at the
airport."

At the Warren County Airport off Ohio 741 near Lebanon, a private owner of
the aircraft buildings shares operating expenses with the county, which owns
the land, runway and taxiways, said Bill Simmons, president of the Warren
County Airport Authority Board. The airport works with the FAA to address
its requirements, he said.

Warren County Airport owner Bobby Henderson said that, with the county's
help, he is installing chain-link fencing around three sides of the airport
(he owns the property to the west) and is installing security cameras. The
facility is manned around the clock, in part because it is an operating site
for Miami Valley Hospital's CareFlight emergency helicopter service,
Henderson said.

But the fencing is only enough to keep out wildlife and "casual observers,"
Simmons said.

"It's just plain impractical to do many of the things you'd like to do,"
Simmons said.

Trade organizations for general aviation and business aviation said the
GAO's report was misleading and incomplete.

They said the GAO failed to examine security measures beyond physical
barriers and lighting, including post-2001 requirements that pilots be
vetted against terrorist watch lists and foreigners undergo background
checks before starting flight training.

The GAO also didn't consider that security needs vary from rural to
metropolitan area airports and that the community-like nature of small
airports, where pilots and airport managers tend to know each other, makes
it easier for them to detect suspicious activities and report them to
authorities, the trade groups said.

"In general aviation, you know who's flying with you, you know who the
passengers are, as opposed to large airliners," said Brian Foley, an
industry analyst in Sparta, N.J.

Some smaller airports are simply airstrips overseen by air traffic control
towers elsewhere, said Dan Hubbard of the National Business Aviation
Association.

The 400,000-member Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association encourages pilot
vigilance through an effort modeled on "neighborhood watch" programs,
association spokesman Chris Dancy said.

"We have been urging pilots since shortly after the attacks in 2001 to look
for things out of the ordinary - pilots making unusual modifications to
airplanes, people asking questions that just don't seem quite right," Dancy
said.

The Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association has estimated that it would cost
$30 billion just to install chain-link fence around every public-use airport
in the country.

There are more than 5,000 such airports, the Federal Aviation Administration
says.

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