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‘Neighborhood Watch’ for Airports

October 9, 2002

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WASHINGTON (AP) _ The Transportation Security Administration is setting up a hot line for private pilots to report suspicious or unusual behavior in an effort to prevent terrorists from using planes as weapons.

The hot line is part of a program to protect small airports that was developed with the trade group representing private pilots.

Warren Morningstar, spokesman for the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association, said Wednesday the airport watch program isn’t intended to mimic the Justice Department’s proposed Operation TIPS _ Terrorism Information and Prevention System _ that would encourage Americans to look out for suspicious activity and report anything unusual.

``We are not encouraging pilots to be vigilantes in any way, shape or form,″ said Morningstar. ``It’s a neighborhood watch program.″

As the federal government has worked to tighten security at commercial airports, concern has arisen about the lack of security at airports without scheduled service.

Most small airports don’t have high fences, metal detectors or baggage screeners, and most private pilots don’t have to file flight plans with the Federal Aviation Administration.

Morningstar said it can cost millions to install fences, lights and other security measures around even tiny airports, Morningstar said.

The Airport Watch program didn’t arouse the harsh criticism from the American Civil Liberties Union that Operation TIPS did.

``While any program that pits neighbor against neighbor is a problem, at first glance this particular initiative does not appear to pose the same threat to basic freedom as Operation TIPS,″ said Rachel King, an ACLU legislative counsel.

Morningstar said people are already keeping their eyes on small airports.

At Danbury Municipal Airport in Connecticut recently, he was working on a video to train pilots to be alert for suspicious activities. An actor was pretending to be a criminal trying to break into an airplane. The police showed up after someone called in, thinking it was for real, Morningstar said.

Weeks after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, the government grounded thousands of crop-dusters amid fears the planes could be used in an airborne chemical or biological attack. Attorney General John Ashcroft said one of the hijackers, Mohammed Atta, had shown interest in crop-dusters and another person in federal custody had downloaded information about the planes.

The toll-free hot line number will be announced in December.


On the Net:

Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association: http://www.aopa.org

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