It’s called, as you undoubtedly know by now, the Large Aircraft Security Program (LASP) and it would, according to its many opponents in Congress, state governments and the general-aviation industry, place the same crown of costly post-9/11 security thorns already borne by scheduled airlines firmly upon the heads of corporate aircraft owners, air freight companies and community airport operators.
Michigan GOP Congressman Vernon Ehlers calls it “a prime example of a stupid rule.”
Alaska Governor Sarah Palin says it imposes “numerous unnecessary requirements on both airports and aircraft operators that are already struggling in the wake of both national and industry economic crisis.”
It is, claims House Aviation Subcommittee Chairman Jerry Costello (D-Ill) “a solution in search of a problem.”
The Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA) says it’s “an unreasonably expansive and intrusive response to an undocumented and unproven security threat.”
And as far as National Business Aviation Association (NBAA) President Ed Bolen is concerned “this proposal completely misses the mark.”
The truth is the that the Transportation Security Administration’s proposed Large Aircraft Security Program has created a firestorm of protest. Of the approximately 5,000 public comments registered with the TSA before the flood of “incoming” was terminated February 27, the “nays” vastly outweighed the “yeas” in both quantity and VIPness.
In other words, none of the few submissions favoring the LASP had anywhere near the political clout of the 23-page treatise filed against it by a coalition of seven Republican members of Congress, all of whom, by dint of political philosophy and/or party affiliation, tend to be bullish on any proposal packaged in a “national security” wrapper.
If it sounds to you like the LASP has few friends, you’ve just passed the hearing test. Outside the agency that created it, public support for the proposal is slim to anorexic. But then, it probably doesn’t need many allies.
Since the day it was spawned in the aftermath of 9/11, the TSA has generally gotten everything it wanted, with or without enthusiastic support from members of Congress — some of whom, like Sen. Ted Kennedy, have been inexplicably bounced from flights by its perhaps overly politicized computers. And while President Obama undoubtedly views quasi-constitutional regulations a bit differently than former President Bush, he’s unlikely to squander political capital this early in his administration by opposing what is being touted by the TSA as “a strong common framework for security that will reduce risk.”
Besides, the TSA craftily side-stepped the one issue that might cause any recession-era president to veto alleged nation security measures by putting virtually the entire just-under-$2 billion (TSA estimated) burden of complying with LASP on GA aircraft operators and local airport authorities.
Since every action – particularly every political action — has a reaction, there are, of course, certain air-transport stakeholders who do potentially stand to benefit if the LASP rules go into effect, as now proposed, in June. Members of the airline and air taxi industry, for example, can be forgiven for inwardly cheering their heads off and their lungs out in favor of the TSA’s position as they stand publicly silent on the sidelines of the debate.
Like sex appeal, the LASP is largely about weight. It only applies to aircraft with a maximum takeoff weight above 12,500 pounds and airports capable of being used by such middleweights. If adopted, the potential benefit to airlines and air taxies is obvious and identical. By raising the operating costs of most business-class jets and turboprops it could force executive travelers out of their Lears, Gulfstreams and Citations and onto commercial airline or air taxi flights. (Note: Of all aircraft now being used, or considered as likely future candidates, for air-taxi service only the Embraer Phenom 300 tops the LASP weight limit.)
As currently structured, LASP would cover about 15,000 business-class aircraft and more than 320 airports not served by scheduled airlines. It would require airline pilot-level screening of all flight crew members, passenger screening through two TSA “watch” lists and establishment of mandated operator security programs requiring specially trained personnel.
Aircraft operators would also be required to create and enforce detailed contingency plans for everything from denying boarding to anyone on the TSA no-fly list, to validating name matches, to ensuring that passengers don’t smuggle articles newly prohibited by LASP — like tools — onto the business aircraft taking them to the job where the tools will be needed.
Operators of airports falling under the LASP’s heel (officially described as DOT-defined reliever airports or public or private airports that regular serve scheduled or public charter operations of aircraft above the weight limit) will have to hire officially designated airport security coordinators, hire or retrain law-enforcement personnel, create TSA-mandated record retention programs, devise procedures for handling and protecting undefined “sensitive security information,” and redefine “incidence-management procedures” to suit the whims of Washington bureaucrats.
No wonder the American Association of Airport Executives became so livid at the introduction of the proposal that it accused the TSA of violating everything from the Privacy Act of 1974, to the Unfunded Mandate Act of 1995, to the Second and Fourth Amendments of the United States Constitution.
Be that as it may, the odds favor the imposition of some version of the LASP that will give at least a slight advantage to air taxi operators regardless of how it is modified to pacify some of its critics.
That’s the good news. The bad news is that many believe that LASP is only a stalking horse for a UASP (Universal Aircraft Security Program) that will impose similar restrictions and requirements on every heavier-or-lighter-than-air flying machine down to Stearman bi-planes, Piper Cub J3s (max. takeoff weight: 1220 pounds) and the Goodyear blimp.
The TSA, they point out, has historically been as preoccupied with empire building as national security and needs to constantly invent new jobs and programs if it wishes to take maximum advantage of the unlimited staffing power given to it by Congress.
Is the theory that the TSA eventually intends to morph LASP into UASP based in reality or paranoia?
Frankly, we don’t have a clue.
But we do have some admittedly circumstantial evidence.
In November, the Bureau of Customs and Border Protection (CBP) issued new regulations requiring “any aircraft, other than government or military, which are not engaged in carrying passengers or cargo for compensation” to abide by scheduled-airline-level aircraft and passenger screening and notification rules prior to entering or leaving the country.
Lest anyone misunderstand the meaning of “any aircraft, other than govenrment and military, etc.” the Bureau provided an even more specific definition: Private aircraft arriving in and departing from the United States, regardless of size or weight.
And what does that have to do with LASP? Not much, except that both LASP and the new CBP regulations were published at virtually the same time and sound like they were written by the same people based on the same real or imagined assumptions.
One other “coincidence.” The Transportation Security Administration and the Bureau of Customs and Border Protection are both among the most favored offspring of the Department of Homeland Security.
Reality or paranoia? You be the judge.