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"Unauthorized use of GA aircraft, "Almost Impossible": Airport managers confident in post 9/11 security measures"



Monday, September 26, 2011

Airport managers confident in post 9/11 security measures 
By Nancy Glasscock 
The Decatur (AL) Daily


Despite heightened concerns about security at small airports these days;
Blackstone Powell said any unauthorized use of airplanes at the
Hartselle-Morgan County Regional Airport would be "almost impossible."

"They would have to have the experience to crank an airplane, and if
somebody did have that experience, they still have to undergo what security
we do have," said Powell, who manages the airport in Hartselle. "TSA is
really stringent on instructors these days, and they require records for all
students. ... It would be very hard for someone with the intent to hurt
anyone to even be allowed to fly."

Days before the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the
Department of Homeland Security and the FBI issued a nationwide warning
about al-Qaeda threats to small airplanes. But Powell said someone is
usually at the Hartselle airport at all times, and planes are secured in
locked hangars.

Transportation Security Administration spokesman Jon Allen said concerns
among the public and federal law enforcement about flight-school security
after the 2001 attacks led the federal government and aviation industry to
develop recommendations for better control of aircraft.

Though managers and operators of general aviation airports are encouraged to
use the recommended guidelines, the airports are so diverse that security
measures can only be determined after examination of an individual airport,
Allen said. 

TSA recommendations include training of airport employees, verifying
government-issued identification of flight-school students and aircraft
renters, proper security in hangars and perimeter control such as fencing or
walls.

Neighborhood watch 

Stan Smith, manager of Pryor Field Regional Airport adjacent to Calhoun
Community College in Limestone County, said the airport's security system is
much like a neighborhood watch. Smith, Powell and Jim Achord, manager of the
airport in Courtland, said aviation is a close-knit community where all
members are familiar with each other.

"We encourage all pilots to be vigilant and pay attention, since at the
airport, it's pretty easy to tell if someone doesn't belong," Smith said. 

The most significant physical change at all general aviation airports since
9/11 is the installation of perimeter fencing with controlled access, he
said. The sheriffs departments of Morgan and Limestone counties provide
added security by patrolling Pryor Field at night, and Homeland Security's
Huntsville office conducts regular inspections, Smith said.

TSA visits

Achord, manager of the Tennessee Valley Air Center in Courtland, said TSA
visits every six months to look at documentation on flight students, such as
birth certificates or passports. Everyone who works at the airport goes
through TSA training, which provides information on suspicious behavior
patterns and appropriate responses to such behavior, he said.

All employees are familiar with clients and where they're allowed, and would
report suspicious activity to a supervisor, Achord said.

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