Are Small Aircraft Really a Security Risk?

By now, everyone has heard of the tragic event that happened today in Austin, Texas, and I do not have any intention of going over the story one more time. However, I just read an article published by The Christian Science Monitor that calls into question the security of General Aviation. I just wanted to make a few common-sense points that the article either leaves out, or simply does not consider.

First things first. Contrary to the caption on the picture on the article, that is not the wreckage of a Cessna aircraft. The picture appears to show the horizontal stabilizer of the aircraft that Stack flew into the building. The stabilizer in the wreckage is the trademark stabilizer that Piper used on most of their light single-engine aircraft. Since Stack owned a Piper Cherokee, it would make sense that this would be the aircraft he used on this particular flight. That has yet to be confirmed, but the wreckage certainly does not look like a Cessna aircraft.

The article goes on to quote Fred Burton, vice-president of intelligence and a counter-terrorism expert at STRATFOR, as saying “We need to rethink how we’re looking at this threat.” He is referring to the “threat” posed by General Aviation aircraft to be used in events like today’s in Austin. I am not sure what kind of “rethinking” he has in mind, but I’m sure whatever it is will not be beneficial to General Aviation. Even if General Aviation was under the same security restrictions the airlines operate under, that would not have stopped Stack from flying his aircraft into a building in Austin. No one would have stopped a certificated pilot from taking his own plane out for a flight. Once in the air, there is even less that could have been done to stop him.

The article also had this to say:

The crash was an obvious reminder of what a pilot with ill intentions can do with an aircraft, and it undoubtedly raises questions about the ability of the US military and Department of Homeland Security to respond quickly and effectively.

Thousands of civilian planes fly within the general aviation system every day. But there are few regulations, laws, or security procedures that would prevent a pilot with ill intentions from using the plane for evil purposes.

Seriously? Aviation is arguably the most regulated form of transportation in the US. That certainly does not mean it is infallible. As I said already, tighter security most likely would not have prevented this incident. However, allow me to play the devil’s advocate for a moment. What if Stack chose not to involve an aircraft today? What if he had walked into the building with a couple handguns and started shooting? What if he had waited outside in his vehicle for a large group of IRS employees to be entering/leaving the building and drove into them? General Aviation is not at fault here.

Stack could have expressed his anger with the IRS in any number of ways. He chose to use an aircraft, and unfortunately there was very little that could have been done today to stop him. Tighter security and more regulations are not the answer. What is the answer? I honestly do not know. Short of having US citizens spied upon 24/7, and a stranglehold put on an industry that provides thousands of jobs and millions of dollars to the economy, I don’t believe any amount of security and regulations could stop someone from doing something like this again. Stack was determined to make a statement today, and he succeeded. We must not allow his actions to result in the kinds of knee-jerk reactions that are so common when things like this happen. If more security restrictions and regulations are placed on General Aviation, it may severely damage the industry across the country.

*EDIT* The Christian Science Monitor has updated the caption of the photo to indicate that the aircraft is a Piper Cherokee. I doubt this blog post had anything to do with that correction.

*EDIT 2* AOPA has released a statement urging that we not overreact to this incident, and is staying in touch with the FAA, TSA, and DHS.

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One Response to Are Small Aircraft Really a Security Risk?

  1. Chris says:

    Good point, Tim. A tragic accident in fact. A suicidal act of despair that no restrictions would prevent. Nothing connected to aviation, really, but is so very broadcastable to blame GA.

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