Historically, General Aviation (GA) airports have not been subject to Federal rules governing airport security. Prior to September 11, 2001, the Federal government’s role in airport security focused exclusively on airports serving scheduled operations. Following 9/11, Congress enacted the Aviation and Transportation Security Act (ATSA), which created the Transportation Security Administration (TSA). The TSA was established to develop, regulate and enforce security standards for all modes of transportation. In the ATSA, Congress transferred most of the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) civil aviation security responsibilities to the TSA.
In May 2004, TSA published Information Publication A-001, Security Guidelines for General Aviation Airports (“Guidelines”). The Guidelines provide GA airport owners, sponsors and operators a set of security best practices and a method for determining when and where security enhancements would be appropriate. The Guidelines do not contain regulatory language, and do not require that GA airports meet the same security requirements as commercial airports. The Guidelines are not mandatory, and do not establish any criteria that must be met in order to qualify for Federal funds. (TSA does require GA facilities located within the Washington D.C. Airspace Defense Identification Zone Flight Restricted Zone to implement security measures.)
The Guidelines provide an “Airport Characteristics Measurement Tool” (ACMT) that can be used to assess security risks. The ACMT lists airport characteristics that potentially affect airport security in four major categories: (1) Airport Location; (2) Based Aircraft; (3) Runways; and (4) Operations. The Guidelines also contain a list of security enhancements that can be implemented depending on the ACMT results. Finally, the Guidelines include a list of recommendations for GA airport managers and operators to use to enhance airport security in six key areas: (1) Personnel; (2) Aircraft; (3) Airports and Facilities; (4) Surveillance; (5) Security Procedures; and (6) Communications; and Specialty Operations.
Because each GA airport is unique, owners, managers and operators must assess security risks and tailor appropriate security measures to their particular environment. The ability of GA airports to implement security measures varies. Unlike most commercial service airports, many GA airports are not self-sustaining. Therefore, the decision to implement security measures must include consideration of reasonableness and economic feasibility.