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Tue, Mar 15, 2005

What NBC Said About GA Security Last Night

More Balanced -- But Still Alarming

Brian Williams, Anchor: Good Evening. Last week, it was a group of pilots. Tonight, it's a newly-disclosed report from the feds. They both say the same things. This long after 9/11, that awful day when terrorists used aircraft as weapons, America still has gaping holes in aviation safety -- even after billions of dollars have been spent. This new report finds weaknesses in commercial and private aviation that a terrorist could exploit. We begin here tonight with NBC's Tom Costello.

Tom Costello, Reporter: At any one time, five- to eight-thousand planes are flying through the nation's airspace -- a tempting target, and still attractive to al Qaeda, according to an FBI-Homeland Security appraisal. While the report contains no new intelligence, it does note, "Commercial airliners are likely to remain a target and a platform for terrorists." Admiral David Stone runs the TSA.

Rear Admiral David Stone (USN, retired), Director, TSA: Very powerful, I think, measures are in place to keep us secure. But this report shows that it's important to keep that sense of urgency.

Costello: Just last week, a scathing security report card issued by the Coalition of Airline Pilots Associations, which gave failing grades to screening employees, screening cargo and missile defense. The government disagrees, but aviation security analyst Charles Slepian says the grades are accurate.

Charles Slepian, aviation analyst: The vulnerability is still there and the number one role of vulnerability is an explosive.

Costello: The new FBI/Homeland Security report continues to highlight general aviation as a cause of concern -- that terrorists may choose to rent or steal general aviation aircraft. And the report reiterates what intelligence agencies have already concluded: That al Qaeda has considered the use of helicopters either to launch an attack, or to spread biochemical weapons in the air.

Rep. John Mica (R-FL): There's no question that they're still assessing our vulnerabilities and would look at the weakest link.

Costello: General aviation pilots say their Airport Watch program already has 650,000 pairs of eyes looking for trouble -- and a Cessna isn't much of a threat.

Phil Boyer, President, AOPA: I'm no more concerned that a small aircraft would be used any more than a car, a small pleasure boat or any other form of transportation.

Costello: But security analyst Slepian says, the size of the aircraft isn't the issue.

Slepian: Two hundred pounds of fertilizer in a Cessna, flying into a building, gives us an Oklahoma City situation.

Costello: A worst case scenario and a nation on alert... in the air and on the ground. Tom Costello, NBC News, New York.

FMI: Tom Costello's Report

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