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Debate Over Small Aircraft Security Continues

Since the Sept. 11 attacks, the Federal Aviation Administration took decisive measures to improve commercial airline security: cockpit doors were locked during flight, air marshals were added onboard and airport security checks became more thorough. Yet relatively little has been done to increase the security of smaller aircraft and airports.

In 2008, the Transportation Security Administration sought to impose mandatory security rules on 15,000 private jets—not small, piston-engine aircraft—including requirements that jet pilots check passengers against watch lists and ban weapons onboard. In response, 7,000 private pilots, businesses and aviation groups protested, labeling the plan as potentially crippling to jet owners, forcing the TSA to revise its security plan.

Then in February 2010, a man crashed a small plane into a Texas I.R.S. office, killing himself and an employee and causing extensive damage. While that case was found to be the work of one distraught man—not a terrorist plot—it brought the hot button issue back to the forefront between the TSA, Homeland Security and those in the industry, and put small aircraft, not just jets under scrutiny.

The core of the debate is over how much danger is actually posed by small jets that fly in and out of thousands of airports with no TSA oversight. Even Homeland Security is divided over the issue. The TSA said large private planes "could be used effectively to commit a terrorist act" while a 2009 Homeland Security report stated that private aviation "does not present serious homeland security vulnerability."

To date, private-aviation groups have been influential in countering TSA efforts to impose security rules on private jets, but a new TSA proposal is likely in this year — a decade after the 9/11 attacks.

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