The great security- gate controversy
How one views the dispute over a new security fence and gates for the general aviation area at Grand Junction Regional Airport may depend on which of the following statements one believes, if any:
A. Terrorists are just waiting to sneak onto the tarmacs of regional airports to commandeer small planes and use them as suicide torpedoes a la Sept. 11, 2001.
B. The Transportation Security Administration is a bloated bureaucracy that is forcing ridiculous demands on regional airports, demands that have little to do with actual threats, but are costing great amounts of money and creating unnecessary inconvenience for the public.
C. The management of the Grand Junction airport is complicit with the TSA in enacting new security measures aimed a facilitating a power grab — even though it is not clear how such a power grab benefits the airport.
We are skeptical about Item A, but we don’t have much doubt about the truth of Item B.
However, we simply don’t believe Item C.
General aviation may not be the greatest revenue generator for the airport, but members of the Grand Junction Regional Airport Authority and the airport management recognize its importance to the airport and the community at large. They didn’t go searching for a security plan that would create the most inconvenience for airport users, nor are they seeking to put small aviation companies out of business.
A significant number of general aviation airport users apparently do believe in some grand conspiracy between the TSA and the local airport to destroy general aviation, however. That’s evident from letters to the editor The Daily Sentinel has received and published over the past few months, and in comments airport officials have received.
A more accurate description of what occurred, we believe, involves officials of Grand Junction Regional Airport struggling to comply with federal security rules and wildlife requirements in a manner that is cost effective to both the airport and its general aviation customers, and in a way that causes as little disruption as possible.
It’s true that the TSA did not mandate the security fence and gates exactly as they were designed by the airport. But the agency did reject — three times — an alternative plan that would have involved each general aviation hangar or business installing its own security fence.
Moreover, recently, the TSA issued a warning to the airport, ordering it to comply with federal security rules and limit the more than 100 airport access points or face significant fines.
Additionally, TSA has accepted the airport’s plan for a security fence with two locked gates as an acceptable means of complying with those security rules.
None of this is meant to suggest that the new system will be either convenient or without cost. Each tenant of the general aviation section must run background checks and obtain badges — at $120 a piece — for its employees and regular visitors. Those badges can be swiped at the security gates to gain entrance to the general aviation airport.
Other visitors or customers must have somebody with a badge escort them through the gates.
For small businesses, operated by the owner with very few employees, that may mean dropping whatever work is being conducted each time a visitor or customer shows up at the security gate. For others, with greater numbers of customers, it may mean hiring additional personnel whose jobs are primarily to escort customers.
But other options — some of which are still being considered to keep gates open during regular business hours — would be even more costly for businesses involved, according to preliminary estimates by the airport.
Some critics see airport duplicity in the fact that the fence being built around the perimeter of much of the airport is now being described as a wildlife fence, when it was originally touted, according to the critics, as a security fence.
But airport officials can point to a series of letters and edicts going back to 2003 that led to construction of the fence to limit wildlife access to the airport. And, they note, TSA has accepted the fence for the dual role of providing perimeter security at the airport.
This security system isn’t a perfect solution to a difficult problem. It is a practical means of meeting tough federal security requirements. It will be an inconvenience, and in some cases, an additional cost. But it isn’t the death knell for general aviation at Grand Junction Regional Airport.