August 14, 2008

Security Rules Coming for Private Jets

WASHINGTON -- The Transportation Security Administration is planning a massive expansion of aviation security that for the first time will regulate thousands of private jets that now fly with no security rules.

The new regulations, expected to be proposed in coming months, stop short of passenger screening, but they would aim to prevent someone from flying a small jet, possibly packed with explosives, into a building. Authorities also worry about terrorists transporting hazardous materials or themselves on private jets, said Michal Morgan, the TSA's head of general aviation security.

Glen Winn, a former security chief for United Airlines, said the threat is real. Winn, now an aviation security consultant, said that some small airports reserved for private planes "really don't have a lot of security," which would make it easy for someone to steal a small jet. "There's a huge window that's open, and I do believe they've got to close that," he added.

Corporations and aviation groups are watching closely as the TSA prepares to regulate roughly 15,000 private planes that are seen as a fast and convenient alternative to commercial flights.

The planes fly in a network of 4,700 small airports -- 10 times the number of commercial airports -- that rarely have delays and often sit closer to city centers than the major hubs do, said Robert Olislagers, the executive director of Centennial Airport near Denver, one of the busiest small airports.

Security regulations could hamper some convenience, aviation groups worry.

"The new security proposals must be workable and should strike the right balance between the need for security and for mobility," said Dan Hubbard, a spokesman for the National Business Aviation Association, a trade group for businesses with private jets.

Morgan said the new regulations would likely require measures such as checking flight crew backgrounds, parking planes in secure areas and inspecting planes. "We've worked very closely with industry to garner as much input with respect to what is operationally feasible," he said.

It is not clear whether passengers would undergo background checks.

The regulations come as Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff has voiced concerns about terrorists using private jets. The department has proposed background checks of people flying on private planes into the country, and it is looking at tightening security for small airports and for businesses such as fuel dealers that operate on them.

Eric Byer, the head of government affairs for the National Air Transportation Association, which represents companies that service business jets, said new security rules "will be a little bit of an inconvenience" but might draw some passengers who now are worried about private planes.

Originally published by USA TODAY.

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