February 2009

Required Security Programs for Large Private Aircraft

Holland & Knight Newsletter
Jonathan M. Epstein

Late in 2008, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) proposed onerous security requirements for owners/operators of large private aircraft. While the airlines and charter operators had enhanced security requirements imposed after 9-11, TSA has now focused on the perceived security threat of a large private aircraft. The comment period on this proposal has been extended until February 27, 2009, and given the diversity of interests, private operators, aircraft manufacturers and charter managers who manage owner aircraft are encouraged to file comments.

The following are some questions and answers regarding the TSA’s proposed security requirements:

Who would be affected?

Any owner/operator of a general aviation aircraft with a Maximum Certified Takeoff Weight (MTOW) of over 12,500 pounds. This captures the bulk of the business jet inventory, except for the new breed of Very Light Jets (VLJs), and also captures some larger turboprops, such as the King Air B350. Additional requirements are also placed on operators of aircraft with MTOW of greater than 100,309.3 pounds and for certain airport operators to amend their security programs. The TSA estimates this rule would affect 10,000 aircraft operators and 315 airport operators.

What are the major requirements for aircraft operators?

There are a number of elements to the security plans that would be required, including:

  • Engage a TSA-approved watch-list matching service provider to conduct watch-list monitoring of passengers.
  • Contract with a TSA-approved third-party auditor to conduct biennial compliance audits, beginning with an initial audit within 60 days of TSA security program approval.
  • Check property carried on board and in any areas of the aircraft that are accessible from the cabin for weapons or other destructive devices or substances.
  • Carry federal air marshals upon notification by TSA.
  • Designate aircraft operator security coordinators, ground security coordinators, and in-flight security coordinators and ensure their proper training.
  • If operating an all-cargo operation, comply with the “Twelve-Five All-Cargo” program.
  • If operating an aircraft with MTOW of over 100,309.3 pounds, screen passengers and their accessible property. (Aircraft with MTOW of over 100,309.3 pounds are currently required to have a security program under the “Private Charter” program.)

How soon would this be implemented?

TSA has proposed a phased approach by region. Despite the fact that this proposal came out seven years after 9-11, phase in could start in 2009, with five to seven months for operators in the first region (the Mid-Atlantic) to come into compliance.

What are industry concerns?

Industry groups have articulated a number of concerns including concerns about the 80-plus “prohibited articles,” some of which may be routinely carried on board private aircraft, the additional costs, and the ambiguity of audits and screening. In response to industry concerns, TSA held a number of open meetings to hear general aviation concerns around the country in January 2008.

Who should submit comments?

Operators who use aircraft for carriage of goods, repair teams with equipment, manufacturers of aircraft, and charter managers who will need to shift back-and forth between programs for private/charter should review these proposals carefully and consider submitting comments. It is important to note that the form in which comments are submitted can make the difference in whether or not an agency gives credence to the comments. In general, any concern should be supported with facts, and whenever possible, it is best to propose alternative compromise language rather than suggest that a particular regulatory provision be completely removed. Comments are due February 27, 2009.

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