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Wed, Jan 19, 2005

TSA: Flight Students A Threat, But Arsonists To Drive Tanker Trucks

Aero-Views Follow-Up by Kevin R.C. "Hognose" O'Brien

Yesterday, I suggested that the Transportation Security Administration had yet to hit rock bottom. A news story I read reassured me that, while the Agency hadn't hit that elusive target yet, it sure hadn't stopped trying.  The Transportation Security Administration, we aviators tend to forget, also has responsibilities beyond the airport fence: it has been working overtime to foul up ground and sea transport, too. Perhaps the TSA has decided that, now that they have cracked down enough on aviation that the airlines are reeling and many general aviation businesses are ruined, they need to address the real risks in the system.

Like the serious problem of arsonists being licensed to drive fuel tanker trucks, or cargoes of explosives. Or the granting of such licenses to foreigners without much of any background check at all. The TSA is moving on these serious issues. But not the way you might think.

The TSA is trying to ENCOURAGE the arsonists to get HAZMAT licenses, and to GRANT the licenses willy-nilly to Canadian and Mexican citizens, without any kind of credible background check.

You heard me right. The TSA has filed an NPRM to change the HAZMAT regs
-- firstly, so that drivers with arson convictions can drive fuel tankers and explosive trucks. What ever happened to the old psychological truism, "the best guide to future behavior is past behavior?" Not to the TSA, evidently. Why do they think arsonists are cool to drive 30-ton gasoline tankers? "Arson is not always an act of terrorism," the NPRM explains. Dude, neither is blowing up or hijacking a plane! The first US airliner destroyed by a bomb was blasted from the sky in 1955 because, for a young man named Jack Graham, the miracle of life insurance made his mother more valuable dead than alive. (He didn't get to spend the money; a jury sent Graham to go be with Mom).

Think about arsonists for just a minute. Arsonists are people who deliberately set fires. They do it without regard to the risks; even abandoned and derelict buildings kill when set on fire; real firemen lose their lives extinguishing such blazes all the time, and somewhere in their brains, arsonists know this. Real people are at risk if a fire spreads beyond the initial building, and somewhere, arsonists understand that. Arsonists start fires regardless of these facts, and they do it for one of two reasons. Each reason indicates a core-deep failing of character: because they're firebugs, who like to burn things for the sheer joy of burning things, or because they are soulless Jack Grahams, who will do anything for money. Neither specimen seems like a good risk to hold the keys to a tanker full of hydrazine hydrate, let alone drive the beastly thing. At least not on our planet, where people tend to do what they've always done, and the laws of physics apply.

But on TSA planet, where a 30-ton tanker of nightmare chemistry is lighter than a feather, and death rides a pale Luscombe that is heavier than a mountain, and people are no threat unless they are seventy or over, and terrorists will show up with Al-Qaeda membership cards hanging on lanyards from their chicken necks -- well, in that alternative universe, anything can happen, and who knows? Arsonists might blossom into Eagle Scouts while in the wholesome environment of Federal or State prison! You gotta give 'em the benefit of the doubt -- it's not as if they were PILOTS or something suspicious like that.

TSA Planet might be an interesting parallel universe for a Star Trek episode. The problem is, that the TSA's bizarro parallel universe keeps bumping up against ours, letting loose wild-eyed arsonists with tons of what your fire marshal calls "accelerant." If you think this is a good idea, I'm amazed you're still in circulation: I thought TSA had scooped up everyone who was that delusional, and plugged them in to senior management.

Then there's the alien thing. This Administration just loves aliens. No idea why. But the sad truth is, if an applicant's a Mexican, there's a lot less reliable data for the investigators who do the cursory background checks for HAZMAT licenses to see. So, most likely, they will not check anything. If they do what will they find? In Mexico, a country where literally everything is for sale from the Presidency on down, where in the 21st Century the oligarchs still live like viceroys of imperial Spain and the common people still live like Aztec serfs, where the federal police shake down tourists for protection money and the Army meets drug planes with trucks loaded with contraband -- how reliable is the birth, death and employment data that is the raw material of background checks?

On the other hand, is there anybody that the TSA has decided NOT to license? Actually, there is. Since the original rule TSA might have lightened up on foreigners and firebugs, but the agency has decided to deny the licenses to murderers. (Which raises the question, why are murderers driving trucks? Aren't they supposed to be put to sleep or locked up for good? But that's not the TSA's department, and it's unfair and unnecessary to blame them for that). So you can start all the fires you like, and even burn and disfigure people if you want -- that's A-OK at TSA. But if you actually kill somebody, then it's no more Mr Nice Guy -- I'm afraid you'll have to turn in your HAZMAT ticket.

So there you have it. Before you can take a student from Canada up on to work on the Four Fundamentals, you had both better be photographed, fingerprinted, and shorn of $130 each by the TSA. That's before you can kick the tires and light the fires on the mighty Piper PA-38 Tomahawk, which grosses well under a ton and never hurt anybody that wasn't foolish enough to be on board.

Meanwhile, the TSA wants more of the guys driving 60,000 pound fuel trucks to be proven, court-certified arsonists.

I'm feeling more secure every day. You?

FMI: www.tsa.gov

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