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Among many anti-terror officials- the continued unbridled movement of thousands of privately owned and operated aircraft remains a source of concern and an ongoing focus. That concern brings with it a near-endless effort by those officials to foment a structure that resolves their worries – and an equally constant challenge for the private aviation community to retain as much as possible of their ...

Dave Higdon   |   1st November 2007
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Dave Higdon Dave Higdon

Dave Higdon writes about aviation from his base in Wichita Kansas. During three decades in...
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Security Update 2007
Changes afoot for private aircraft- both domestically and abroad?

Among many anti-terror officials- the continued unbridled movement of thousands of privately owned and operated aircraft remains a source of concern and an ongoing focus. That concern brings with it a near-endless effort by those officials to foment a structure that resolves their worries – and an equally constant challenge for the private aviation community to retain as much as possible of their traditional freedom and flexibility.

It’s likely to remain a never-ending effort to balance the preservation of freedom of movement against the protection of our security.
As in the larger threat of terrorism- private aviation can ill afford any regulatory creep lest the day come when corporate aviation finds itself subject to an ill-fitting airline-style security system- complete with passenger and luggage screenings- domestic manifest checks and air marshals “riding shotgun” on business aircraft – as is now the case for private flights cleared to use Washington National Airport (DCA).
Indeed- the coming year looks likely to bring with it new efforts to secure general aviation airports and protect against the use of a private aircraft in an act of terror. That- in turn- means more to consider for business aircraft crew and passengers – particularly those traveling internationally. In fact- some changes have already gone into effect for all Americans traveling between the U.S. and Canada- Mexico or the Bahamas.

As the world turns
Already- operators arriving from certain areas of the Western Hemisphere face “special landing requirements” and the need to use one of 31 designated airports or obtain an overflight exemption that allows landing at other designated airports. These special requirements apply to any private flight arriving via the Mexico border of the Pacific Coast from a destination south of 33 degrees North Latitude; or via the Gulf of Mexico from a location south of 30 degrees North Latitude; or from any point in Mexico or the U.S. Virgin Islands.

New rules have also gone into effect requiring passports for entry to the U.S. from Canada- Mexico- or other locales for which passports previously weren’t needed. That’s only part of the current rules structure.

There are also the so-called Twelve-Five Standard Security Program security requirements for charter aircraft weighing more than 12-500 pounds- and the Private Charter Standard Security Program for 121- 125 and 135 operators that charter aircraft weighing more than 100-309 pounds.

Other possible changes remain in the pipeline proposing more requirements and constraints on all private aircraft flying internationally. Those rules mean new- significantly more demanding requirements for private aircraft crossing the U.S. border.

Even as the U.S. Bureau of Customs and Border Protection (CBP) pursues new regulations- it continues to work with elements of the private aviation community- as evidenced by the September publication a new guide for those traveling by private aircraft and released during the recent 60th meeting of the National Business Aviation Association.

And there are more changes and additions desired by members of the security community and lawmakers at both the federal and state levels. Fortunately- past challenges to federal pre-emption on aviation matters have been either reversed by the state’s lawmakers or neutralized by court decisions. The most-recent example on this latter point: the reversal of a New York law requiring state criminal background checks and approval for a wide range of flight instruction that initially impacted everything from primary to recurrent training.

Let’s take a look at where things stand- where they could go and what the CBP offers travelers by way of help.

Proposal Reaction:
CBP Proposes
International Changes Future travelers by private aircraft could face new time constraints if a CBP proposal to update the Advanced Passenger Information Service goes through unchanged. The NPRM- Advanced Information on Private Aircraft Arriving and Departing the United States- expands on regulations already in place.

The CBP proposal of September 11 would require submission of a passenger manifest for international private flights at least an hour prior to departure- in place of the current system of supplying the information before or upon landing at a designated entry point. The proposal also requires that names on the list be checked against terrorist watch-lists.

“This rule is designed to further protect the nation by improving our ability to identify threats on flights to and from the United States-” Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff said upon release of the NPRM. “We have a similar rule in place that allows us to assess the risk of commercial aircraft passengers on these flights- and we are now taking steps to expand that capability to include passengers on international flights by private aircraft.”

As the DHS noted in its release- the proposal would “require pilots of private aircraft to provide electronic manifest data for all persons traveling onboard to the United States Government one hour prior to departure to and from the United States by filing manifest data via CBP’s eAPIS system or an approved alternative system.” Adding complexity to the proposal is its call out for more than tripling the amount of passenger information demanded.

None of the major general aviation groups impacted by the proposal are exactly big fans- although the CBP and several of these groups have been communicating about this and other proposals. Both NBAA and AOPA have had communication and consultations with DHS on the CBP proposal.

Since the proposal was published in September- several of these groups have called into question whether the proposal reflects an understanding of how private aircraft and business aviation function. Among the complaints heard so far: aviation experts question in particular the single path of communications allowed under the draft. The CBP wants to allow only Internet filing of the manifest information- precluding the use of phone or radio now available.

The problem- both groups contend- is in the inflexibility of the communications medium. At many small- remote airports inside and outside the U.S.- access to an Internet connection is limited to slow- dial-up connections or is non-existent altogether. Some fields may have only limited phone service- as well.

And lest you think that reporting a name and birth date isn’t the kind of data stream likely to require a high-speed connection- that might be true if the CBP wanted as little information as that. As things stand now- however- international private flights must submit 10 pieces of information about each passenger and crew member. Under the new CBP proposal- the amount of information increases to 34 – a jump of more than 240 percent.

There’s also concern about the type of data required and the increased possibility that an error in entry or confusion about meaning could result in refusing entry to travelers innocent of nothing more than sharing a piece of information – a name- hometown- birth date – with a name on the terrorists watch lists.

“While the general aviation community supports security enhancements- NBAA is troubled with the potential impact of this proposal- especially on small businesses-” said Ed Bolen- the association’s President and CEO. “We intend to convey this and other concerns to the agency- and we strongly encourage NBAA Members to do likewise.”

Another sobering aspect of the September 11 proposal comes in a statement concerning the APIS changes as “the first phase” in a plan to move private aviation security measures closer to those for commercial aviation.

For example- the DHS notes in its release that after these changes are finalized- the goal of Phase one- Phase two will involve putting those changes into action – followed by a Phase three- with more- as-yet unspecified restrictions and information demands on general aviation aircraft- passengers and crew.

NBAA encourages its members to review the proposal and submit comments no later than November 17 – the published closing date for the public-comment period.
Anyone can look at the proposal by visiting this Website: http://web.nbaa.org/public/ops/intl/apis/eapisnprm0907.pdf

Slowing down the train…
AOPA felt so strongly about the possible negative impact and questionable aspects of the DHS proposal that the association in mid-October formally petitioned the CBP to extend the existing 60-day comment period to 120 days. The association wants the CBP to allow more time both to accommodate input from a wider variety of pilots and operators and allow time for the development of alternative ideas.

“A two month extension is essential to ensure that the general aviation community- which will be significantly impacted by this rule- has an adequate opportunity to comment-” wrote Andy Cebula- AOPA’s executive vice president of government affairs- to the CBP’s assistant commissioner for international trade regulations and rulings.

The association also expressed concerns about how the pilots of international flights would be able to resolve fall hits from the terrorist watch lists- noting the “significant challenges” that would face pilots trying to resolve such a problem from a remote location.

“Extending the comment period is essential to provide the general aviation community the opportunity to develop possible alternatives to address specific concerns within the rule such as the proposed electronic-only submission of passenger and other data to CBP prior to border crossing flights-” said Cebula.

Sources with several business aircraft and at a variety of aviation groups all say the goal is to move DHS and CBP away from its proposal without generating a defensive response from the security bureaucracy.

“But think- 34 pieces of information? Really? Does that mean more or fewer chances of things getting confused or mistaken-” asked a flight-department chief pilot for a Fortune 1000 company. “We sometimes have issues with the more-understandable amount of data they want now.”

Domestic next?
And behind the scenes- the references to moving general aviation security closer to an airline-style system worries many participants who don’t generally fly their private aircraft internationally. “Seems like a no-brainer to many of us that once DHS gets its teeth into all that data for international flights it will- as a bureaucracy- be compelled to expand that system to cover domestic flights – on no more justification than ‘We’re doing it on international flights so we should do it domestically- and since we can- we should.’

The DHS has long studied steps for improving the security of general aviation airports- encouraging and underwriting the AOPA Airport Watch program- helping airports secure their boundaries and working on systems to secure and segregate private aviation operations from airline areas on airports where both operate. “Any expression of making general aviation security more like the airlines’ does nothing but make me worry about what they might dream up for our airports-” said the manager of a busy Midwest general aviation airport. “I mean- will they come to us and insist that charter flights have separate screening and ramp areas because they’re ‘commercial’ flights?”

As things stand- DHS has found that common sense steps can go a long way to making small private fields unattractive to would-be attackers.

Bright light – new help from DHS
For more than a year leading up to the recent NBAA convention- the association and its International Operators Committee worked with the CBP on a booklet to help private aviation users navigate the labyrinth of rules and regulations for international flights.

As the convention was opening- the CBP published its revised Private Flyers Guide (PFG) and made it available through the bureau’s website. Replete with current policies- regulations and documentation requirements- the CBP’s PFG also lists ports-of-entry for private flights- extensive links from its index to various sections within the document- sample forms and Internet links- making the updated document more user-friendly.

Questions about the guide should be directed to the bureau’s Michael Kaneris at Michael.Kaneris@dhs.gov or NBAA's Operations Service Group at info@nbaa.org. You can download or review the PFG here: http://http://www.cbp.gov/linkhandler/cgov/ travel/pleasure_boats/private_flyers/private_flyers_guide.ctt/private_flyers_guide.pdf

TFRs – FSS not always reliable
One way to assure an introduction to U.S. security officials is to violate – or “bust” in the aviators’ vernacular – a Temporary Flight Restriction for VIPs… particularly when the “VIP” is the President or Vice President of the United States.

In late September- about a dozen old aircraft en route to an antique fly-in violated the TFR for Camp David- the presidential retreat not far north of Frederick- Maryland – AOPA’s headquarters city. Four of these old biplanes – which nearly all authentically lacked electrical systems and radios – found themselves intercepted by Air Force fighters and questioned.

At the time- an FAA spokeswoman noted that all the pilots had to do was to have contacted the Flight Service System (FSS) network to have the latest TFR Notice to Airmen. Except… they had received an FSS briefing – and the FSS- operated by Lockheed Martin- had lost the NOTAM. No NOTAM on hand- no NOTAM info to pass along to pilots.

This is the latest black eye for the FSS since Lockheed Martin took over operation of the service about two years ago. The FSS service has been plagued with problems of lost flight plans- long hold times- briefers unfamiliar with the areas they’re covering- and dropped calls. A recent survey by AOPA found a service satisfaction level of 64 percent – by normal FAA standards a “failing” grade- noted AOPA president Phil Boyer. And that 64 percent is a considerable improvement over past satisfaction surveys.

Losing a NOTAM- particularly a NOTAM with a security implication as serious as a Presidential TFR- means more scrutiny coming for FSS under Lockheed Martin. But for pilots- it means fears of unreliable information that could conceivably get an aircraft shot down.

Extra caution around known Presidential TFR spots such as Camp David- Crawford- Texas- and Jackson Hole- Wyoming- would seem in order until Lockheed Martin restores confidence in its ability to keep track of- and accurately disseminate- NOTAMS.

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