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fragile buildings, while F-16s and Blackhawks circle ineffectually. By the time the approval to shoot down the airplane worked its way up the chain of command, it would be too late. Meanwhile, pilots who transgress the restricted area get a slap on the wrist, creating little incentive to scrupulously avoid violating it. It’s only a matter of time before some reality show wannabes gate crash the D.C. airspace, claiming they had an invitation to land at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport, and try to parlay their bold display of trespass into a TV contract, paid interview or Congressional subpoena. And meanwhile, firm in its belief of the potential danger of these incursions, the government must launch intercepting aircraft and evacuate and lock down buildings each time in response. Not smart, government. You want to prevent pilots from straying into the airspace, and send would-be terrorists a strong message? Rig up a remotely piloted C-182. The 182 has a useful load of more than 1,100 pounds. Put a mannequin in the left seat, pack it with C-4 or other high explosive and aim it for downtown D.C. Sound the alarm, alert the media, hit the panic button. Drop dark hints about officials taking this very seriously, and when the TV audience has reached balloon boy levels, blow the airplane out of the sky – don’t even wait until it gets into DC airspace - to show you mean business. The explosion of a half ton of C-4 would make a strong case for the potential danger presented by even a small aircraft, and shut up those alphabet group GA supporters who hound you for focusing on the wrong threats. You wouldn’t have to spend as much energy trying to get pilots to pay attention and avoid the restricted airspace, either. And potential terrorists plotting how to top an attack that utilized three wide-body airliners loaded with fuel would be have to reconsider using a Cessna or a Piper Cub to get the job done. Most importantly, the action would likely reduce future evacuations of the Capitol and the real and present danger of sprains, broken bones or other injuries incurred in the course of these knee-jerk responses. Meanwhile back in New York the FAA rewarded the politicians’ foot stomping by changing the rules and configuration of the Corridor’s airspace. And Senator Schumer, to his credit, showed he doesn’t target only general aviation in his anti-aviation tirades. More recently he was
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quoted in the New York Times as having called a flight attendant on a US Airways jet a “bitch” for telling him to turn off his cell phone so the commercial flight could get underway. (http://www.nytimes. com/2009/12/17/nyregion/17schumer.html?hp.) But how much of a threat do security experts really consider GA aircraft? Is the heavy handed response simply a show meant for public consumption, a display of “securitiness” (a term that bears the same relation to “security” as Stephen Colbert’s “truthiness” does to “truth”)? Or is the orchestrated panic behind small plane sightings part of some darker effort that lies behind the government’s current war on general aviation, exemplified by its attacks on the nation’s GA manufacturing base and on residential communities that have had through-the-fence access to their adjacent airports for decades, along with whatever link conspiracy theorists want to make of the airline industry-USA Today connection? Whatever lies behind the knee-jerk’ reaction, an assessment of the security-industrial complex’s true perception of GA’s threat can be drawn from the agendas of two recent gatherings: The 9th annual Aviation Security Summit held in Washington, D.C. this past December and the 2010 International Airport Security Conference in Queensland, New Zealand in February. Attended by international security experts, TSA, DHS and airport officials, the multi-day palavers addressed all manner of security threats, policies and technologies. And where did GA fit into the discussion? In both conferences the very last topic, seemingly added as an afterthought to agendas that between the two managed to schedule several hours’ worth of “Coffee Break with Exhibitors” sessions, was General Aviation Security. The panels featured low level officials probably left behind to wave the flag after their bosses departed, the real business and commerce of the shows already having been concluded. But clearly the threat is seen as greater by half in the U.S.: the GA security session at the D.C. gathering was allotted 45 minutes, versus the half hour it got in New Zealand. Then again, perhaps we should applaud this as a smart, efficient approach. Why should security officials waste their time jawboning about general aviation security? Give the knee-jerk a little more time, and there won’t be any general aviation to worry about.