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"US Announces`Neighborhood Watch' For Small Airports"



Wednesday, October 9, 2002                         

US Announces `Neighborhood Watch' For Small Airports


WASHINGTON (AP)--The Transportation Security Administration is setting
up a hot line for private pilots to report suspicious or unusual
behavior in an effort to prevent terrorists from using planes as
weapons.

The hot line is part of a program to protect small airports that was
developed with the trade group representing private pilots.

Warren Morningstar, spokesman for the Aircraft Owners and Pilots
Association, said Wednesday the airport watch program isn't intended to
mimic the Justice Department's proposed Operation TIPS -Terrorism
Information and Prevention System -that would encourage Americans to
look out for suspicious activity and report anything unusual.

"We are not encouraging pilots to be vigilantes in any way, shape or
form," said Morningstar. "It's a neighborhood watch program."

As the federal government has worked to tighten security at commercial
airports, concern has arisen about the lack of security at airports
without scheduled service.

Most small airports don't have high fences, metal detectors or baggage
screeners, and most private pilots don't have to file flight plans with
the Federal Aviation Administration.

Morningstar said it can cost millions to install fences, lights and
other security measures around even tiny airports, Morningstar said.

The Airport Watch program didn't arouse the harsh criticism from the
American Civil Liberties Union that Operation TIPS did.

"While any program that pits neighbor against neighbor is a problem, at
first glance this particular initiative does not appear to pose the same
threat to basic freedom as Operation TIPS," said Rachel King, an ACLU
legislative counsel.

Morningstar said people are already keeping their eyes on small
airports.

At Danbury Municipal Airport in Connecticut recently, he was working on
a video to train pilots to be alert for suspicious activities. An actor
was pretending to be a criminal trying to break into an airplane. The
police showed up after someone called in, thinking it was for real,
Morningstar said.

Weeks after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, the government grounded
thousands of crop-dusters amid fears the planes could be used in an
airborne chemical or biological attack. Attorney General John Ashcroft
said one of the hijackers, Mohammed Atta, had shown interest in
crop-dusters and another person in federal custody had downloaded
information about the planes.

The toll-free hot line number will be announced in December.


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