Regional Airport hope federal officials will relent on deadline
Time, costs make officials hope deadline will be pushed back
Officials at Grand Junction Regional Airport are hoping federal officials will relent on a June 1 deadline to secure the entire airport.
The new regulations affect not only the airport and its immediate environs, but some private pilots say it will increase their expense and make it more difficult for them to fly for their own enjoyment or help carry passengers from place to place for medical or emergency treatments.
The most immediate issue, though, is delaying the deadline for completion of security measures under a directive of the Transportation Security Administration, Grand Junction Regional Airport Manager Rex Tippetts said.
That directive will cost Grand Junction Regional Airport $5 million to $6 million and normally would require two to three years to complete.
The idea that all the work contemplated by the federal agency can be complete by June 1 is “ridiculous,” Tippetts said.
Airport officials have begun the process of meeting one requirement, making sure everyone employed there has a security badge, Tippetts said.
The major issue for the airport, however, is securing its north boundary, Tippetts said.
That uninhabited stretch of land leading up the Bookcliffs is routinely patrolled by security officials during presidential visits, but it has no security fencing.
It should be fenced, according to the new directive, but that’s a more difficult proposition than it might seem, Tippetts said.
Building a fence along the north boundary of the airport will require earthwork and a full environmental review, he said.
Grand Junction Regional Airport has plenty of company in trying to deal with the directive, said U.S. Rep. John Salazar, D-Colo., who wrote Tuesday to Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano asking that the directive be delayed and that she work directly with the aviation industry.
The directive “puts undue burden on rural airports and general-aviation personnel, stifles rural aviation, which is a lifeblood for these smaller communities, and was created without input from stakeholders,” Salazar wrote, adding that many of the requirements “simply cannot be met, financially or physically.”
As the directive is structured, each airport would issue its own security badges to people who own planes or work in what is known as the airport operations area.
That requirement would be onerous for private pilots who fly to multiple airports, not all of them with 24-hour service, said pilot Bill Pitts, also a Grand Junction City Council member.
Pilots and passengers without badges would have to be escorted through the airport operations area, which could put businesses such as small mechanical shops, radio repair places and other services at risk if pilots arrive at odd hours and without badges, Pitts said.
Pilots without badges at small airports couldn’t refuel by themselves at airports with self-service fuel stations because they would be prohibited from getting out of their planes without badges or escort, he said.
“It creates a big hazard to general aviation,” Pitts said. “This is serious business.”
Perhaps most troublesome, Pitts said, is it would be difficult for pilots to make “angel” flights, ferrying people to places where they could get medical attention that otherwise would be unavailable to them.
Pilots frequently fly patients in legs, from one airport to another, where they are picked up by one pilot and carried to another airport, where another pilot takes them on another leg of the trip.
Those flights arrive at odd hours and often land at smaller airports without full services, he said.
Making a security badge that could be used by pilots at all airports would resolve many of the issues for private pilots such as he described, Pitts said.
That also would resolve many of the issues Tippetts faces in trying to comply with the directive, he said.
Tippetts still has to consider how to make sure that only people who have security badges have access to airport operations areas, he said.
It’s easy to understand the TSA’s intent, he said.
“They look at it as a system” of airports to which access has to be controlled, he said.
Ultimately, controlling access to airports and the planes and their fuel will be an expensive, but not impossible goal, he said.
“Hopefully the TSA will come to its senses” and give airports more time to work out security arrangements, he said.