Graham Warwick / Washington DC

US business aviation sees security certificate as answer to airspace limitation issues

Business aircraft operators at New York's Teterboro airport are participating in a trial programme intended to remove security-related restrictions on airspace access. Industry hopes the initiative will lead to business aviation being guaranteed the same access to airspace as scheduled airlines, regardless of the threat level.

Teterboro-based operators are the first to apply to the US Transportation Security Administration (TSA) for an "access certificate" removing restrictions on access to international airspace. The US National Business Aviation Association (NBAA) hopes the programme will be expanded nationally, extended to include access to airspace affected by security-related temporary flight restrictions (TFR) and, ultimately, used to re-open Washington National airport to business aircraft.

The first TSA access certificates (TSAAC) are expected to be awarded shortly, says the NBAA. The voluntary programme involves TSA vetting of operators' aircraft, personnel, passenger and facility security procedures. For qualified operators, the TSAAC will replace the international waiver system put in place soon after the 11 September attacks and will allow routine access to international airspace without further security vetting.

Immediately after 11 September, operators were required to fly in and out of US airspace via "portal" cities that were considered secure. This proved untenable, says the NBAA, and was replaced by the international waiver system, under which operators can apply to the TSA for approval to bypass the portal cities. A waiver is required for each trip, and takes about a day to process, says the NBAA, although some operators have secured fleet waivers.

Once the TSA is comfortable, the NBAA believes, consideration will be given to extending the TSAAC to include access to TFRs. "The TSA has taken the position that it should walk before it runs, so it is limiting the TSAAC trial to one airport and one access issue," says NBAA president Jack Olcott. "The expectation on the part of the TSA is that the TSAAC is the vehicle for access beyond just international airspace."

The biggest inconvenience to corporate operators are the TFRs imposed at short notice over event venues or other sites judged to be under threat of terrorist attack. While scheduled airlines can continue operating, business aircraft are barred from TFRs. "Re-opening Washington National to business aviation is the ultimate goal, but if we don't know what tomorrow's TFRs are, how can we reliably deliver our product to our customers?" says Doug Schwartz, manager of AT&T's flight department and chairman of NBAA's security council.

Source: Flight International