The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) has released a proposed rulemaking that will effect sweeping changes in the security standards applicable to private aircraft operations (http://edocket.access.gpo.gov/2008/e8-23685.htm). The rulemaking would add significant burdens on "large" private aircraft operators, and industry trade associations are already gearing up to smooth out some of the rough edges on this proposal. Comments on the proposal are due by December 29, 2008.

Of Note:

All operators (private or commercial) of aircraft with maximum takeoff weight (MTOW) over 12,500 pounds must adopt a large-aircraft security plan (LASP) meeting specific parameters laid out by the TSA. This puts an estimated 10,000 unregulated operators under TSA regulation.

The TSA will designate private- sector consultants as authorized to perform independent audits of operators' LASPs, and will require those operators to submit to initial and recurrent audits to confirm compliance.

The key elements of a LASP include: watch-list prescreening of passengers by name and other information; criminal background searches for crew; carry-on and cargo screening; and a biennial LASP audit.

Separate requirements will be imposed on airports that serve larger aircraft. This would include "reliever" airports as well as airports serving larger private aircraft.

The TSA objective will be attacked as excessive. Screening and audits are intended by the TSA to improve security. The resistance to the rule will cite the undue burden. The threshold itself (12,500 pounds) is actually a MTOW that the business jet industry believes is a "light" aircraft (in the eight-to-ten seat range, like a Hawker 400XP). The industry considers a "medium" jet to be twice this number, and the heaviest private jets, like the Gulfstream G550, have a MTOW of well over 80,000 pounds. The TSA compares private aircraft to smaller commercial aircraft as a justification for this rulemaking; however, even the smaller commercial jets (such as the 50-seat CRJ 200 or Embraer 145) have MTOWs in the 40,000 to 50,000 pound range. Expect the National Business Aviation Association (NBAA) to fight hard to bump this threshold up substantially.

Perhaps the greatest threat and concern is the impact this rule will have on the spontaneity and privacy of business jet transportation. It is hard to imagine many industry players supporting this proposal, but it should bring a bit of cheer to commercial airlines, which have been under TSA oversight (and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) before that) for a few decades.