What Price Security?

What Price Security?

On the night of March 30, 2003, Chicago’s Mayor Richard M. Daley directed an act of domestic terrorism by surreptitiously bulldozing the runway at Meigs Field, ending a long-running debate over maintaining convenient general aviation access to the City’s downtown. His excuse, at one point, was that his act was necessary for security reasons. In the spirit of 9/11/2001, he held that Meigs simply made it too easy for crazed individuals to launch an aerial attack on his city.
Aviation stakeholders, outnumbered as they are by power-wielding non-flyers, frequently have to suffer arbitrary inconveniences devised in the name of “security”. At a otherwise-welcoming small city’s airport I visit, I must wait to be “buzzed” through the FBO’s door to get back to my airplane, simply because there is an airline terminal located two miles away across the airport. Almost everywhere, chain link fences and controlled-access gates deter the next generation of would-be pilots from hanging out around airplanes.
Even visiting FAA facilities for an informal cup of coffee has become difficult, as Flight Service Stations have become automated and control towers are moved off the ramp and into remote-fortress locations in the airport’s farmland. I used to be able to walk into my General Aviation District Office and see if one of my inspector friends was free for lunch. After 9/11, FAA Flight Standards District offices went into full lockdown mode, behind metal detectors, security guards and service-by-appointment.
Washington, D.C., “Seventy square miles of logic-free environment,” as labeled by my favorite Congressman, tries to be the most secure locality in the world, a place where purse contents are routinely stirred by building guards and bottles of drinking water are considered suspect. Washington airspace, of course, is held sacrosanct, requiring all manner of special training and preparation before considering entry to even the suburban perimeter. Residents of this bastion take comfort in knowing that unauthorized aircraft cannot penetrate the designated no-fly airspace; they’re still nervous from being targeted by terrorists fourteen years ago.
Meanwhile, pilots intuitively recognize the futility of regulatory restrictions. Bad guys could care less what it says on a navigation chart. As a protester with an unregistered gyrocopter proved last month, a sudden aerial arrival that disregards the rules can evade most preparations. A dedicated terrorist, against whom our pages of procedures were supposedly devised, or a protester who’s willing to accept the penalty, simply disregards locked gates and printed prohibitions.
In the world of general aviation security, much of what we have was foisted upon us by well-meaning, but unknowledgeable, individuals responding to cries of “Do something…make sure this never happens again!” Aviation lobby groups try to talk sense into rule-makers, but our limited numbers often result in having to accept a compromise, just to keep some of our rights. We shouldn’t let up, however. When you discuss aviation security with lay individuals, try to let them know that their security begins with us; we are the ones on the airport, watching for suspicious activity and observing comings and goings. Pilots and owners know what works, and what doesn’t.
In the final conclusion, the only truly secure skies are in the totalitarian countries, where only the rulers’ military has wings. As the incomparable Benjamin Franklin wrote in 1755, “Those who can give up essential liberty for a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.”

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1 Comment

  • Michael McCatty June 9, 2015 at 12:09 pm

    These are great points, more security equals less freedom. There is a balancing act, but the more we do as owner/pilots, the less unwanted, unnecessary restrictions there will be.

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