IAOPA Input for ICAO Security Manual (DOC 8973)

Security Issues | Threat Assessment for GA/AW Aircraft | Security Controls for General Aviation and Aerial Work | Recommended Procedures for General Aviation and Aerial Work Security | Security Precautions for Aerial Work Operations | General Aviation Airport Security Procedures | Airport Community Watch Program

Much of the attention of security forces is focused on worldwide scheduled commercial air transport (CAT) services, primarily because of the concentrations of people and aircraft size involved in this type of service. Yet, many more aircraft and flight crew members participate in general aviation and aerial work.

When the name general aviation is mentioned most members of the public conjure up a mental image of a small, single-engine piston-powered aircraft, operating out of a small rural aerodrome for recreation. This image is correct for only about one-third of worldwide general aviation/aerial work (GA/AW) activities. The remaining majority is occupied with personal transportation, flight instruction, business travel, agricultural application and other gainful pursuits. In fact, this diversity is so great that ICAO defines general aviation operations by exception: those flight activities not involving commercial air transportation or aerial work. Similarly, aerial work may only be generally defined as operations used for specialized services such as agriculture, construction, photography, surveying, observation and patrol, search and rescue, aerial development, etc. (ICAO Annex 6, Operation of Aircraft, Definitions.)

In sheer numbers GA/AW is impressive: Approximately 350,000 aircraft and one million pilots are involved in these activities worldwide; they fly approximately 40 flight hours per year. On balance, roughly 60,000 aircraft and 500,000 pilots are employed in commercial air transportation, including cargo and charter.

The significance of GA/AW is increased when it is realized that every airline and military pilot must begin their journey to professional competence in the cockpit of a general aviation aircraft. Further, the essential services provided to the public by GA/AW for police, emergency medical services and search and rescue make all of our lives safer and more productive. And, for the many remote areas of the world, life and civilization would not be possible without the benefits provided by GA/AW operations.

GA/AW activities globally create hundreds of thousands of jobs and billions of dollars for the countries these activities serve. Without this activity essential transportation functions would be eliminated and the opportunities associated with them would be lost to the economies they potentially serve. Therefore, GA/AW needs and desires should be taken seriously as a worldwide economic engine.

The theft, hijacking or criminal misuse of a GA/AW aircraft is of great concern to pilots, owners and operators of these aircraft. The threat of personal hazard and financial loss provides a strong motivation to ensure that these illegal acts are prevented. Therefore, it is in the best interest of GA/AW owner/operators to devise measures that will prevent misuse of their aircraft. While governments may wish to supplement these measures to further protect the public, the diverse and far-reaching nature of GA/AW must be accounted for in devising these supplements. As well, any supplements must take into account the relatively small potential for damage that GA/AW aircraft possess as opposed to their much larger air transport counterparts.

Security Issues

Scheduled CAT generally operates from major airports that provide a significant security control and screening infrastructure. GA/AW operations tend to avoid these airports, preferring to operate from the many small aerodromes or even off-airport locations, providing one of the many advantages when compared to CAT. Yet, GA/AW aircraft frequently operate from airline airports to take advantage of either location or the ability to connect with scheduled CAT.

GA/AW operations at the estimated 100,000 official and unofficial landing sites worldwide make it difficult, if not impossible, to provide full screening and physical security services. Importantly, many GA/AW aircraft do not need a prepared surface from which to operate; 300 meters of road or pasture provide adequate takeoff and landing area for many light aircraft. Further, helicopters and amphibious or float-equipped aircraft specialize in off-airport operations.

In the past GA/AW operations at airline-served airports were technically subject to the same security and screening requirements required of the airlines. These measures were deemed impractical and prohibitively expensive for small aircraft at airline airports, therefore ICAO Annex 17 was revised in 2005 to accommodate GA/AW.

Threat Assessment for GA/AW Aircraft

There are three principal security objectives for general aviation:

  • Protecting the aircraft from theft
  • Protecting the aircraft, crew and passengers from attack
  • Preventing aircraft from being used as a weapon

GA/AW must be protected from two types of threats: (1) the possibility of the aircraft being turned into a weapon, either by the authorized pilot or by someone who takes over the aircraft; and (2) deliberate sabotage, including the potential that a bomb or explosive device might be placed on an aircraft.

The majority of general aviation aircraft have significantly less mass, payload and speed than commercial airliners and all-cargo aircraft, making them unsuitable for use as high kinetic energy weapons or "guided missiles." While the threat posed by most GA/AW aircraft may be small a threat assessment should be performed by States to determine potential risks associated with specific targets. Once a specific threat associated with a specific event or location has been identified the severity of the threat should be evaluated to determine severity. Then, the probability that such an act could occur must be sought to arrive at a risk assessment (risk = severity of threat x probability of occurrence). Once the level of risk has been determined mitigating factors can be devised to counter the threat. Each State should conduct its own independent assessment to determine relative threat/risk levels and appropriate mitigation factors.

Elements of these analyses may include:

  • Threat
    • Targets
  • Activities
  • Events
  • Structures
    • Unauthorized activity
  • Theft
  • Modification
  • Hijacking/weapon
    • Dependent elements
  • Aircraft operational capability
  • Aircraft location (distance from target, airport requirement, etc.)
  • Flight crew qualifications/skills
  • Risk
    • Target attractiveness
    • Successive successful steps required to accomplish unauthorized activity
    • Existing security precautions

Industry groups have examined potential threats associated with GA/AW and subjected them to risk assessment techniques. The findings of these studies indicate that due to the numerous and successively dependent steps required to accomplish various unauthorized activities, the resulting probabilities were quite low. However, the threat from large fire suppression and agricultural aircraft were higher than GA aircraft, given their load carrying and special operational capabilities.

In determining these factors several general conclusions form a basis regarding potential threats from GA/AW operations:

  • The threat is not globally uniform yet is generally considered to be low for most GA/AW operations.
  • Vulnerability, in States containing large numbers of GA/AW aircraft, in the absence of security precautions, is moderate.
  • For terrorists contemplating an attack using explosives, the disadvantages of GA/AW aircraft, compared to other means of delivery, such as trucks and boats, probably outweigh the advantages.
  • Because large fire suppression and agricultural aircraft are potentially more hazardous, these categories of AW aircraft need more stringent protection and monitoring than GA and smaller AW aircraft.
  • Effective security precautions for GA/AW operations have proved to be uncomplicated and in the realm of common sense. Importantly, in regions where significant GA/AW activity exist, States, aircraft owners and operators voluntarily have adopted simple precautions to prevent theft of and tampering with aircraft. These precautions will also prove effective in reducing vulnerability to the use of GA/AW aircraft by terrorists.
  • If State security agencies, as well as aircraft owners, pilots and operators, implement practical security precautions, the risk of terrorists misusing GA/AW aircraft will be low.

Security Controls for General Aviation and Aerial Work

Because of the diversity and frequency of GA/AW operations it is difficult to classify and establish security programs that fit all types of operations. More significantly, the level of activity and geographic dispersion of these activities make effective enforcement by State forces very difficult. Therefore, States with large numbers of GA/AW operations have formed partnerships with those operators that draw upon the security objectives of both State and operator to achieve common goals. For instance, the desire of the operator to protect aircraft and flight crew from harm or misuse closely matches the State's desire to prevent misuse of the aircraft for more sinister purposes. Therefore, working together the State and operators can establish common procedures that meet mutual objectives.

Security measures for GA/AW must be based on a continuing assessment of the threat posed by their activities. As threats emerge and change appropriate security measures may be imposed. Classes of security measures include:

  • Identification and registration
  • Local controls
  • Operational controls

Identification of pilots and aircraft form the basis of security controls for GA/AW. The ability to correctly identify a flight crewmember and aircraft should lower potential threats to easily manageable levels. All pilots and student pilots authorized to independently operate (solo) an aircraft are required to be licensed by the State.(ICAO Annex 1) The pilot license, when linked to a government issued identification containing a photograph (such as a driving license), will permit authorized personnel to positively identify pilot personnel. Similarly, the aircraft registration certificate (required to be carried on board the aircraft)(ICAO Convention, Article 29) will both establish the authenticity of the aircraft registration markings and its ownership.

State intelligence and security agencies can assist aircraft and airport operators and handling facilities (Aircraft handlers and Fixed Base Operators (FBO) are companies that fuel, service or park GA/AW aircraft or provide transient facilities for pilots and passengers.) by providing them with relevant and appropriate security information. Such information may include changing threat levels or specific information about personnel or techniques that may increase operational threats. Importantly, GA/AW personnel may complement this type of information by providing information to security forces regarding suspicious or clandestine activities at airports and handlers. Formal procedures should be established to facilitate this information flow. (See Airport Community Watch Program)

Local controls are normally associated with access to airports and airport operating areas. The ability to control access to aircraft parking areas, hangars and handling facilities will normally prevent most unlawful acts associated with aircraft. GA aircraft based at or operating on airports serving scheduled CAT will be subject to relevant State requirements and the airport operating authority's security program. However, these controls normally are not as restrictive as those for scheduled CAT since GA operating areas are not located within designated security restricted areas.

GA operations at non-commercial service airports will normally have fewer security controls applied due to the lower threat levels associated with those activities. Notably, access restrictions to aircraft operating areas are more difficult to impose and enforce due to the lack of security infrastructure and personnel. The expense associated with perimeter fencing, ramp lighting, operating and storage area surveillance and access control are prohibitive for most GA/AW airports; importantly, the potential threat does not justify such measures. Yet, existing controls imposed at these airports to deter theft and vandalism are normally adequate to prevent misuse of the aircraft. (See General Aviation Airport Security Procedures)

Operational control refers to airspace restrictions imposed by the State to prevent operation of aircraft in the vicinity of sensitive areas or activities. These controls are normally applied sparingly to small areas to protect only the most important ground activities; enforcement of restrictions associated with large or numerous restricted areas is difficult. Further, excessive use of restricted airspace unnecessarily denies aircraft operators operational flexibility and freedom of transit. Temporary flight restrictions associated with specific activities or events are normally considered more effective than permanent or large area prohibitions.

It should be emphasized that the imposition of security controls on GA/AW without conducting segmented threat/risk assessments may unnecessarily restrict those operations while depriving more legitimate security concerns of appropriate levels of emphasis and resources. GA/AW activities have historically shown little reason for major security concerns when compared to other forms of aeronautical activity or transportation modes. Consequently, a number of States with active GA activity have imposed few security controls for small GA aircraft due their low threat levels, choosing to rely on the self-interest of the aircraft owner/operator to protect them from theft or misuse.

Recommended Procedures for General Aviation and Aerial Work Security

While the diversity of GA/AW makes it difficult to form a single set of security precautions that will fit every possible activity, the following represent a compilation of practices in use by a number of States to prevent misuse for a variety of aircraft operations: (Specific programs are provided (below) for larger aircraft, on-demand CAT (air taxi) and aerial work operations)


  • Institute ongoing threat and risk assessment measures for GA/AW operations
  • Ensure proper licensing and identification procedures for aircraft owners, pilots, mechanics and other personnel authorized access to aircraft and aircraft operating areas
  • Maintain accurate pilot licensing and aircraft registration records
  • Initiate communications channels between the intelligence community and GA/AW organizations and businesses and airport operators to ensure effective exchange of security information. This should include a system to disseminate reports of stolen aircraft and a watch list for known or suspected terrorists.
  • Ensure law enforcement personnel are familiar with GA/AW operations and their security needs

Aviation Personnel

  • Carry valid licensing and identification documents while at airports
  • Report suspicious or clandestine aviation activities to law enforcement agencies
  • Ensure the security of owned or operated aircraft
  • Pilots-in-command must properly identify passengers, baggage and cargo to be carried on their aircraft


  • Equip with effective anti-theft devices. (Aircraft cabin and ignition locks will normally accomplish this objective. Where assessments indicate higher risk levels devices to immobilize the aircraft may be warranted.)

Aircraft Handlers/Repair Facilities/Businesses

  • Develop and implement a written security program that includes:
    • Personnel qualifications
    • Security procedures
    • Preventative measures
    • Contingency/response measures
    • Reporting procedures
  • Conduct ongoing security threat assessments of areas of responsibility
  • Conduct background investigations of employees performing critical functions
  • Maintain contacts with law enforcement and State security personnel to ensure the security of their areas of responsibility
  • Separate GA/AW passengers and flight crew from CAT operations
  • Institute measures to ensure the security of aircraft in their custody
  • Control pedestrian and vehicular access to aircraft operating areas

Security Precautions for Aerial Work Operations

Because of the size, payload and special characteristics of certain types of AW operations special precautions may be necessary to prevent their misuse. Aerial work operations are defined by ICAO as operations used for specialized services such as agriculture, construction, photography, surveying, observation and patrol, search and rescue, aerial development, etc. Of particular security concern are aircraft that can carry large, bulky or heavy loads such as those used for fire suppression, construction or sky diving operations. Additionally, specialty aircraft such as those used for agricultural application and insect control are of concern because of their potential for dispensing harmful aerosols.

All AW operations should be subjected to a State conducted threat assessment process to determine whether additional precautions are necessary. AW operations deemed to pose a significant threat should be required to establish and maintain a State approved written security program, incorporating the following provisions:

  • Facility and aircraft security measures and procedures
  • Background checks for certain types of employees
  • Security training and knowledge requirements for employees
  • Compliance with security directives and information circulars
  • Designation of a security coordinator
  • Contingency and response plans

Note: All AW aircraft with a maximum certified takeoff mass (MCTOM) exceeding 5,700 kgs. should also be subject to the provisions of the Large Aircraft Security Procedures.

General Aviation Airport Security Procedures

The diverse size and configuration of GA airports makes the establishment of a single set of security precautions difficult. By definition these facilities do not serve scheduled commercial air transportation yet may accommodate occasional air taxi operations. But, the great majority of GA airports are used for aerial work or personal transportation purposes.

GA airports may be as small as a 300 meter grass runway and have no based aircraft, hangars, buildings or other infrastructure. At the other end of the spectrum a GA airport may have multiple paved runways exceeding 2000 meters in length, hundreds of based aircraft and large complexes of hangars, buildings and business facilities. Because of this diversity a single security formula is inappropriate for all GA airports.

Threat and Risk Assessment

The first step in devising a security program for a GA airport is to determine the type and size of threats facing the facility. Small, remote airports obviously face different threats and levels of threats than large airports located close to major metropolitan areas. Threat assessment should consider the following factors:

  • Size and configuration of the airport
  • Proximity to major metropolitan areas
  • Number and type of based aircraft
  • Number of aircraft operations

Before any threat assessment is undertaken the actual capability of a GA aircraft to cause damage to persons or ground infrastructure should be understood. Most GA aircraft are too small to pose a significant threat due to their inability to carry a sufficiently large quantity of explosives. Further, in order for a small aircraft to have any impact careful loading and fusing of the explosives must be accomplished; these actions take time and expertise. Therefore, lengthy clandestine preparations must be made, often difficult at active airports.

Small remote airports pose a significantly lower threat than do larger more capable ones. But, any moderate sized airport, located within 50 km of a major metropolitan area may constitute an elevated threat due to the proximity of potential terrorist targets. Yet, size alone does not constitute an appreciable threat; if there are few based aircraft or annual operations, the threat will likely be small. Size and capability of based or transient aircraft will help determine relative threat, as well. Finally, busy airports with a mixture of large and small aircraft operations may require several levels of analysis.

The risk assessment should consider the following questions:

  • What are the potential aircraft misuses?
  • What possible targets are available?
  • What is the probability of the action being accomplished?
  • What aircraft/operational capabilities are required to accomplish this misuse?

Because the local knowledge of the above factors is probably incomplete, assistance in conducting an airport threat assessment should be provided by State and local intelligence and law enforcement agencies. Ideally, a master aviation threat assessment should be conducted by State authorities on an ongoing basis to provide all concerned with current information.

Once the risk assessment has been completed measures to mitigate those threats can be devised through policy, procedural and physical security precautions.

Security Precautions

The principal method of preventing the misuse of GA/AW aircraft is to prevent the unauthorized access to the aircraft itself. The primary means of preventing unauthorized use is to lock cabin and/or cockpit access doors. In high threat/risk areas additional precautions may be necessary, usually involving measures to immobilize the aircraft.

The next method of preventing misuse is to deny access to aircraft itself. This is done through perimeter security controls. Security fences, locked hangars and operating area access controls serve as credible deterrents. However, the majority of GA airports are too small to warrant (through threat assessment) or justify (economic viability) these measures. Some States with large numbers of GA/AW aircraft have successfully implemented programs in which airport operators and other interested personnel actively look for unusual or suspicious activity that may constitute a security threat and report these events to law enforcement agencies. (See Airport Community Watch Program)

Security precautions for GA airports should be viewed as an increasingly restrictive set of measures to meet threats determined through ongoing threat assessments. Examples of these measures include:

All airports

  • Conduct an informal security evaluation, based on local conditions
  • Install signs warning trespassers of legal consequences
  • Develop an appropriate surveillance schedule
  • Establish liaison with local law enforcement agencies

Medium Size GA Airports (Paved runway longer than 1000 meters and/or more than 50,000 annual aircraft operations)

  • Conduct regular security evaluations
  • Establish and maintain appropriate security measures and procedures
  • Develop and implement a written security program that includes:
    • Personnel qualifications
    • Facility and aircraft security measures and procedures
    • Preventative measures
    • Contingency/response measures
    • Reporting procedures

Large GA Airports (Runways longer than 2000 meters and/or more than 100,000 annual aircraft operations)

  • * Designate a security coordinator
  • * Implement airside access controls
  • * Provide appropriate perimeter physical security for ramp and parking areas (fences, surveillance cameras, etc.)
  • * Enhance existing written security program to include:
    • o Access controls
    • o Procedures for handling bomb or air piracy threats
    • o Background checks for certain types of employees
    • o Security training and knowledge requirements for employees
    • o Compliance with security directives and information circulars
    • o Security drills/exercises

Security Breach Response

Response to a suspected or actual security breach should be a part of all airport security programs. The ability for all personnel to react positively and rapidly may make the difference between a major security event and a minor administrative issue. Plans, coordinated with local and State law enforcement agencies should be developed for at least the following events:

  • Access control breach
  • Theft or attempted theft of an aircraft
  • Assault on an airport employee, tenant or transient persons
  • Bomb threat

Airport Community Watch Program

The vigilance of airport users is one of the most prevalent methods of enhancing security at GA airports. Typically, the user population is familiar with those individuals who have a valid purpose for being on the airport property. Consequently, new faces are quickly noticed. Teaching an airport's users and tenants what to look for with regard to unauthorized and potentially illegal activities is essential to effectively utilizing this resource.

Airport managers can either utilize an existing airport watch program or establish their own airport specific plan. A watch program should include elements similar to those listed below. These recommendations are not all-inclusive. Additional measures that are specific to each airport should be added as appropriate, including:

  • Coordinate the program with all appropriate stakeholders including airport officials, pilots, businesses and/or other airport users.
  • Work with local law enforcement agencies to develop a program that involves them from its inception.
  • Hold periodic meetings with the airport community.
  • Develop and circulate reporting procedures to all who have a regular presence on the airport.
  • Encourage proactive participation in aircraft and facility security and heightened awareness measures. This should include encouraging airport and line staff to 'query' unknowns on ramps, near aircraft, etc.
  • Post signs promoting the program, warning that the airport is watched. Include appropriate emergency phone numbers on the sign.
  • Install a bulletin board for posting security information and meeting notices.
  • Provide training to all involved for recognizing suspicious activity and appropriate response tactics. This could include the use of a video or other media for training. The following are some recommended training topics:
    • Aircraft with unusual or unauthorized modifications.
    • Persons loitering for extended periods in the vicinity of parked aircraft, in pilot lounges, or other areas deemed inappropriate.
    • Pilots who appear to be under the control of another person.
    • Persons wishing to rent aircraft without presenting proper credentials or identification.
    • Persons who present apparently valid credentials but who do not display a corresponding level of aviation knowledge.
    • Any pilot who makes threats or statements inconsistent with normal uses of aircraft.
    • Events or circumstances that do not fit the pattern of lawful, normal activity at an airport.
  • Utilize local law enforcement for airport security community education.
  • Encourage tenants to make their staff aware of the airport watch programs.

It is essential that every airport employee, tenant, and user is familiar with reporting unusual or suspicious circumstances on airport property. There are three basic ways that persons can report suspect activities. First is to airport management. Oftentimes questions regarding the legitimacy of an activity can be quickly and easily resolved by bringing it to the attention of an airport employee. The second is through a national or wide-area toll-free central telephone reporting number, connecting to a law enforcement or intelligence agency. Finally, direct contact with a local law enforcement agency may provide the most responsive and effective means of reporting.

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