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GAO Assesses Physical Security at General Aviation Airports

06/21/2011 -

Lack of standardized physical security measures at general aviation airports across the country could allow intruders to commandeer planes, presenting a terrorism risk,according to a Government Accountability Office (GAO) report released yesterday (.pdf).

The GAO visited 13 general aviation airports--three of which also serviced commercial flights--and assessed how the airports' security measures prevent unauthorized access to the airport and its planes. Unlike commercial airports, general aviation airports are not required to implement a broad range of standardized physical security measures by the Transportation Security Administration (TSA). Rather TSA has provided general aviation airport operators voluntary security guidelines, but many operators have not bolstered physical security because of scarce resources.

During the GAO's assessment, its investigators did find that 12 of the 13 airports had perimeter protection. But half of those with some type of perimeter protection had fencing too close to impediments like greenery. "[A]t 6 of the airports fencing was partially bordered by bushes or trees or located next to a parking lot, which can obstruct surveillance or allow someone to scale or topple the fence," the GAO reports.

None of the ten exclusively general aviation airports had perimeter lighting, which the report says provides a real and psychological deterrent to intruders. Officials at some of those airports told the GAO that they didn't need perimeter lighting because street lights provided enough illumination. All 13 airports visited, however, did have lighting around hangars.

The ten general aviation airports also monitored for intrusions differently, generally preferring CCTV and on-site law enforcement or private security guards to integrated intrusion detection systems. (For a breakdown of the security measures at the airports, see the chart on the next page.)

"The results of our assessment are meant to illustrate the variation in physical security conditions at the selected airports," the GAO report explains. "Since TSA does not require the implementation of security measures for airports with only general aviation operations, our assessments are not meant to imply that any of the 13 airports we visited have failed to implement required security measures."

Three general aviation airports admitted that they have had instances of intruders gaining access to the airport. One airport reported that it had two planes removed or stolen from the airport without approval. The stolen airplane was recovered in Mexico.

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