Security sparse on airport’s private side | AspenTimes.com

Security sparse on airport’s private side

Brent Gardner-Smith
Aspen Times Staff Writer

The shrinking of the guard on the commercial side of Aspen’s airport is a reminder about the lack of security on the private side of the runway.

“Aspen is the third busiest airport in the state,” said Tom Grady, director of operations for the Pitkin County Sheriff’s Office. “When you add the private flights, we are the second busiest in the state. And there is no security on the private side.”

And from the federal government’s viewpoint, there is not supposed to be.

“There is no federal mission to handle security in general aviation,” Paul Turk, spokesman for the new Transportation Security Administration (TSA), told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch on March 24. General aviation refers to private planes.

That means that no one at the Aspen airport is screening the bags that fly out on private or charter jets, which account for about 65 percent of all flights out of Sardy Field.

“Bags are not screened on the general aviation side,” said Ray Krebs, Aspen airport assistant director.

Recommended Stories For You

And no men in combat fatigues with automatic weapons have been seen strolling about the private and charter jet terminal at Aspen’s airport, as members of the National Guard have only been stationed in public airport terminals.

Now, the 6,000 members of the National Guard who have been on duty at the nation’s airports are preparing to pull out by May 31, and that includes the nine who have been guarding the local airport since September.

Eventually, the TSA is expected to staff the commercial side of airports with new federal security personnel, but in the interim, it’s up to local law enforcement officers.

They now plan to manage security with one law enforcement officer per shift at the single passenger checkpoint at the Aspen airport. And that officer may have plenty of time to wonder about what’s on board all those Gulfstream and Lear jets taking off outside the Aspen terminal.

Money, not security, may be the biggest hurdle for a terrorist who wants to use a private jet out of Aspen as a weapon, said one local private pilot who asked not be identified.

“All you need is a credit card,” the pilot said, pointing out that in Aspen, no one’s luggage is screened, and passengers on chartered jets do not go through background checks.

That’s not to say that air charter companies have not looked at ways to improve security at private jet facilities, although much of what has been done to date revolves around making sure no one steals a plane off the ramp.

“There has been a lot that has taken place in the last six months as far as locking airplanes, disabling airplanes and making sure somebody just can’t jump in and fly off with them,” said Cliff Rungee of Aspen Base Operations, a charter jet company at the airport.

And, Rungee said, the entire facility in Aspen is now more secure since September.

“We’ve been doing extra things,” he said. “We’ve got all our doors positioned so that nobody can get out a door unless we see them. And during the last six months we’ve had our main doors locked so you had to ask permission to go out on the ramp. So we have done quite a bit and will continue to do so.”

But, on a national basis, Rungee said, the responsibility for tight security at private jet portals is being placed at the jetway of the planes.

“Basically, the general aviation industry itself has decided to put the burden of security, as well it should be, on the aircraft owners and the pilots of the aircraft themselves,” Rungee said.