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Wed, May 14, 2003

NATA Answers TSA's Insinuations

Government Poisoning Public Opinion Against Private Aircraft

When the TSA implied last week that GA would be a likely tool, or even an accomplice, in an Al-Qaeda-style attack on Americans, the country should have been outraged. Most Americans yawned; but aviation groups picked up on the government's PR attack on our livelihoods and hobby. NATA has answered, formally. Its letter to ASA Hutchinson (pictured) -- the TSA's Under Secretary, Border & Transportation Security -- is here for your information:

Dear Under Secretary Hutchinson:

The National Air Transportation Association (NATA), the voice of aviation business, is the public policy group representing the interests of aviation businesses before Congress, federal agencies and state governments. NATA's 2,000 member companies own, operate and service aircraft. These companies provide for the needs of the traveling public by offering services and products to aircraft operators and others such as fuel sales, aircraft maintenance, parts sales, storage, rental, airline servicing, flight training, Part 135 on-demand air charter, fractional aircraft program management and scheduled commuter operations in smaller aircraft. NATA members are a vital link in the aviation industry providing services to the general public, airlines, general aviation, and the military.

Since the horrible attacks of September 11, 2001, NATA and our members consistently have taken a proactive stance on the operational security of our aircraft. We have consulted with federal security experts at every level. We have worked cooperatively with the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) to implement the Twelve-Five Standard Security Program, which applies to all commercial air charter operations of aircraft weighing 12,500 pounds or more. We have approached the government with an appreciation of your responsibilities to the public and accepted our obligations to enhance aviation security. Until today, NATA had believed our efforts to educate the TSA and others on the diverse nature of this thriving industry and forge a positive partnership with the federal government were bearing fruit.

Earlier today, we received Department of Homeland Security Advisory 03-019, "Security Information for General Aviation Pilots/Airports." This document contains contradictory, misleading and, in our opinion, factually incorrect statements regarding charter and general aviation operations. Despite NATA's efforts to provide numerous security-oriented federal agencies with an understanding of the composition and operation of this industry, it appears that their managements have not taken to heart this knowledge.

Quite simply, the Advisory presents an irresponsible picture of the U.S. air charter and general aviation industry. Further, it demonstrates the inability of government officials to distinguish between private, non-commercial flight operations and those of certificated commercial air charter operators subject to TSA security regulations.

In scores of public and private security-related meetings attended by NATA staff over the previous 20 months, officials have consistently stated that the federal government is unaware of any specific or credible threat involving the use of a private, non-commercial general aviation aircraft or, especially, a commercial air charter aircraft as a terrorist tool. In fact, this Advisory was issued the very same day TSA general aviation security officials were in a secured meeting with industry and those officials made absolutely no mention of any security threat prompting this Advisory. We hope you find this contradiction as troubling as we do.

Specifically as it concerns air charter operations, we feel the Advisory has a fanciful notion of how this industry operates. Air charter operators provide valuable transportation services not available from any other source and are subject to extensive economic, operational and security regulations promulgated by the federal government. Yet, the Advisory portrays these American-owned businesses as cavalier about security. This breathtakingly reckless portrayal will damage the public view of these operations at a time when they appear to be the only segment of the commercial air transportation industry showing economic promise.

To imply that a "Gold Card" is all a person needs to charter an airplane is beyond understanding. Every air charter operator has invested literally thousands of man-hours plus an equal number (and often millions) of dollars to create and operate their businesses. Predominantly privately held, family-owned businesses, their proprietors often must use private assets - home equity and life savings - to secure bank financing. To suggest that these men and women would risk their aircraft, their businesses, their livelihoods, their staff, their homes and frankly their lives (since many are themselves pilots) for a quick buck from some unknown person who drops by out of the blue is insulting.

The Advisory also states that "some agencies allow the use of customer pilots." While we assume Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) certificated commercial air charter operators are implied by the term "agencies," we are mystified by the concept of "customer pilots."

Any pilot whom the operator intends to permit to fly an aircraft on a charter flight must first meet FAA-established experience and qualification criteria and pass extensive, rigorous training and flight checking. Only then will a pilot be authorized to fly a charter aircraft. Furthermore, if this pilot will fly an aircraft weighing 12,500 pounds or more, an FBI Criminal History Background Check is also required under the Twelve-Five Standard Security Program. For the Advisory to suggest that a so-called "customer pilot" is casually permitted to fly a charter aircraft at an operator's whim is absurd, contrary to regulation and a disservice to the hard-working men and women in this industry.

The TSA's Twelve-Five Standard Security Program is the first security-based regulation applied to this segment of the air transportation industry. It provides specific security procedures for
operators to follow while highlighting overall awareness of and dedication to security concerns. The fact that the tasks in the "immediate action items" and numerous other recommendations listed in the Advisory are integral components of this program is not even acknowledged. Furthermore, these are some of the same recommendations promoted by NATA in September 2001. Quite simply, none of this is new information yet it is portrayed as such to the recipient.

Finally, NATA must ask why, if the information in this Advisory is time-sensitive and critical, was it neither issued as a Security Directive to all charter operators with Twelve-Five Standard Security Programs nor posted on the secured Web site run by the TSA specifically for the purpose of communicating with these regulated parties?

Mr. Under Secretary, NATA and our members are extremely disappointed by the lack of advance communication and absence of understanding surrounding the Department's issuing of this Advisory. We hope you share our concerns in this matter. As always, we are ready to provide the time and resources necessary to ensure your staff has the knowledge leading to insightful and productive analysis of our industry.

Sincerely, James K. Coyne, President

[We await Mr. Hutchinson's reply or explanation --ed.]

FMI: www.nata-online.org

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