Security measure upsets airport users
Every July, some 75 to 100 search and rescue volunteers arrive at Grand Junction Regional Airport to train for air search and rescue maneuvers and of other operations through the local chapter of the Civil Air Patrol, Thunder Mountain Squadron.
Civil Air Patrol Cadets also stream in on Tuesday nights for training that may one day inspire the youths to become pilots or join the U.S. Air Force.
But gated access soon to be installed at the entrance to the Navigators Way and Aviators Way at the airport will threaten those programs, said Ed Behen, the CAP’s deputy group commander for Group 4 on the Western Slope.
“It will kill our cadet program,” Behen said. “We cannot physically escort that many people in and out of the gate.”
Grand Junction’s airport is separated into its commercial end to the west — where most passengers catch flights — and its eastern end, which caters to general aviation. Grand Junction’s airport has 117 privately owned hangars, most of which belong to private pilots who fly themselves and others about, though not as part of any business venture.
But several businesses that cater to the public also are situated off Navigators Way and Aviators Way and will be affected by gates scheduled to go up in September. Security at the airport already requires hangar owners and business owners to carry security badges approved by the Transportation Security Administration. With the gates, only those with a badge can enter the general aviation section.
Essentially, business owners must meet all their visitors at the gate, escort them to their business and escort them back to the gate. Badged individuals can escort up to five people at a time, but must maintain a line of sight on all visitors. The expectation to escort delivery workers, trainees, helicopter school students, visitors to the Commemorative Air Force Museum and all other customers is an unreasonable burden that will destroy businesses, owners said.
“We’re averaging 50 people a week but we’re going to double or triple that,” Ron Rouse said of his private aircraft service Colorado Airlines. Rouse expects business will pick up in coming months with an increase of oil field workers needing to be transported across the country. Customers drive to the airfield, park their vehicles and are flown to their destinations.
“There’s no way we can escort people 24 hours a day. We have to have access to our parking lot,” he said. “It’s going to devastate us.”
The planned gates to the general aviation section are the next stage of the airport’s overall fencing project, which nearly encompasses the airport’s property into the desert. Airport Manager Rex Tippetts said the gated access for general aviation is necessary to comply with TSA standards. Some hangars have multiple doors that open onto the runway, and current fencing is not adequate, as some hangars were built without the attention to aviation safety that now exists in the post 9/11 world, he said.
The gates are going up, Tippetts said, but if business owners can each devise a security plan by August that is approved by TSA, the gates can remain open.
West Star Aviation is not included in the plan for gated access because it has adopted a security system that includes security cards, Tippetts said.
“We can’t continue to operate the way we have,” Tippetts said. “We’re the ones going to end up getting fined. We are to comply with regulations of TSA. We are not making the rules. I guarantee you it’s not what staff wants to do or the Airport Authority wants to do.”
During a board meeting Tuesday night, Collin Fay, owner and operator of Colorado Flight Center, told members about the uproar the fencing issue has created between tenants and the airport. Board members said they would work to create a committee of tenants and board members in an attempt to come up with some sort of solution.
Some general aviation business owners feel the necessity for gated access is an interpretation of TSA regulations. TSA requires that airports be responsible for their own security and that those airport authority boards must submit security plans. TSA then determines whether those plans are acceptable. Grand Junction’s plan has been accepted by TSA, Tippetts said.
However, business owners feel a less-intrusive security plan that doesn’t affect businesses could have been submitted to TSA for approval.
“TSA requires the airport to control access as part of their Airport Security Plan, but it’s up to the airport to decide how to do it,” TSA spokeswoman Carrie Harmon said in an email. “TSA is not requiring the airport to install the new fencing, but supports the plan as a way to meet security goals.”
While business owners have known for years about the proposed gated access, they were told by airport officials not to worry about access because the gates would be left open, said Fay, who also owns two hangars that will be affected by the new gates and is a wing leader for the Rocky Mountain Commemorative Air Force museum, entities that will be behind the gates.
Fay said contributions from general aviation seem to be overlooked by the airport’s authority board, but those businesses bring in local revenue with leases, taxes and millions of dollars in building improvement investments.
Some general aviation customers have compared the fencing plan around general aviation business similar to placing a gate around Main Street.
“We just want to be treated fairly,” Fay said. “Rex (Tippetts) has done a lot of good for this airport, but he hasn’t done any good for general aviation.”