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9/11, Ten Years Later: A Look Back at the LASP Challenge
September 9, 2011
At NBAA’s 2008 Annual Meeting & Convention in Orlando, FL, the top general aviation (GA) manager for the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) assured NBAA Members that new security regulations planned by TSA officials would not be onerous.
“She told us that ‘everything will be stuff you’re already doing,’” recalls NBAA Vice President, Safety and Security Doug Carr. “Then, two days later, TSA released its Large Aircraft Security Program [LASP], and after we read it, we wondered if it was the same document she had been referring to.”
LASP called for flight crew security threat assessments and police background investigations, a check of passengers against two TSA watch lists on every flight, an armed security officer on board and creation of an individual flight security program by each company. “Also, in many cases it would have prohibited companies from carrying their own products,” said Greg Kulis, a business aircraft pilot who is now chair of NBAA’s Security Council. “It would have mandated hiring a third-party safety plan auditor and the 12,500 pound weight limit would have caught many single-pilot light aircraft owners.”
Adding financial insult to injury, TSA officials estimated an annual compliance cost to each operator of between $12,259 and $28,356.
When the LASP Notice of Proposed Rule Making (NPRM) was published in the Federal Register, the public comment period was to have been a government-standard 60 days, but NBAA analysts knew that wouldn’t be enough. NBAA and the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA) won an extension of the comment period, until February of 2009, and during that period TSA received an unprecedented 7,400 comments vehemently opposed to LASP.
To their credit, once TSA officials realized the depth of opposition, the agency scheduled five LASP public hearings across the country and NBAA participated in every one. Between 1,200 and 1,500 concerned NBAA members crowded each meeting, and made sure TSA officials at the head table in each meeting understood the real-world effect such security measures. “It really highlighted the degree to which business aviation is such a key element of the economy,” said Carr.
In short, explained NBAA President and CEO Ed Bolen, “TSA was proposing to overlay big-airline security onto tens of thousands of small businesses, and it just wouldn’t work.”
At the public meeting at Westchester County Airport near White Plains, NY, Bolen took the agency to task for its erroneous definition of “large aircraft” in the LASP plan. “A 12,500 pound aircraft, from windshield to rear bulkhead, would fit turned sideways in any of the three aircraft hijacked during 9/11,” he said. “It’s less than one tenth the size of a Boeing 737.”
NBAA also made sure that legislators and public officials on both the federal and state levels took note of the LASP proposal. Representative Charlie Dent (R-PA) introduced legislation to require TSA to include GA stakeholders on a rulemaking committee, a measure that was co-sponsored by eight other House members. Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC) also spoke up, as did Senator Michael Bennet (D-CO), Senator Mark Pryor, (D-AR) and Representative Pete Olson, (R-TX).
Martha King, co-owner of King Schools, Inc., delivered testimony in July, 2009 before a House security panel on behalf of her business and 8,000 other NBAA Member companies. “This proposal does not recognize the significant differences between commercial airline operations and non-commercial operators,” she declared. “GA operators know personally everyone on the aircraft.”
The Association’s lengthy comments to TSA on LASP filled 30 single-spaced typewritten pages, incorporating not only NBAA suggestions to make the proposal practical, but also representative comments from NBAA Members who would be affected by the new rules. Those comprehensive official comments were only the beginning; NBAA also quickly started a series of meetings with TSA officials addressing the worst of LASP’s shortcomings.
“We didn’t have time to address everything we saw wrong in the plan,” says Carr. “We just concentrated on the biggest seven or eight business-killing items.” But as the series of meetings continued through the spring and early summer, the tone of the talks changed.
“As bad as the original proposal was, it had a silver lining,” said Kulis. “It brought us together with the TSA, and we got to know each other. We and TSA now consult frequently in advance of security proposals or pending issues.”
And of the LASP proposal itself?
Since those tumultuous meetings and hearings in 2008 and 2009, the TSA has been reworking the proposal, this time with a better understanding of business aviation. Carr is hopeful the new version will be at least closer to what the former TSA GA manager promised at the 2008 NBAA Convention.
“It’s safe to say TSA heard the industry loud and clear,” Carr said. He said the finished proposal has been signed by TSA Administrator John Pistole and is now under consideration by officials with TSA parent Department of Homeland Security. It will also have to stop at the government’s Office of Management and Budget for a review. A release date, he said, remains uncertain.
Regardless of the final contents, Carr said NBAA Members should be proud of themselves. “I’ve never seen an aviation rulemaking that generated anywhere near the response LASP did,” he said. “Our Members are willing to get out in front, stand up and be counted, and that’s a very good thing.”
“And the relationship between business aviation and TSA has gone from very bad to very good,” Kulis said. “It was the silver lining of LASP.”