Atlanta metro airports fight new TSA regulations

Jan. 15--Four metro Atlanta airports could have to impose stringent -- and costly -- new security measures under a new federal proposal aimed at preventing terrorist attacks at smaller airports primarily used by business travelers.

The four -- DeKalb-Peachtree, Fulton County Airport, Briscoe Field in Gwinnett County and McCollum Field in Cobb County -- are on a list released by the Transportation Security Administration.

Some local airport operators have bristled at the proposed new regulations, saying they would be expensive and could change the very way general aviation is conducted in the United States.

"We basically need to put this proposal back on the shelf and let the general aviation community get together with the TSA and come up with a new plan," said Lee Remmel, DeKalb-Peachtree's airport director.

TSA was created after 9/11 to ramp up security at big commercial airports, such as Hartsfield-Jackson International. But general aviation airports have been largely exempt from those requirements. Some safety experts believe that creates an opening for terrorists, and they note that some aircraft used at general aviation airports are as large as those that use commercial airports.

TSA is now rolling out its Large Aircraft Security Proposal, which would add passenger screening and other measures for planes above certain weights. The smallest general aviation craft would not be affected, but larger charter planes and private jets would be.

The idea has run into intense opposition from the general aviation community. Opponents packed hearings on the proposal in White Plains, N.Y., and more recently in Atlanta.

DeKalb-Peachtree is a major general aviation airport, with about 220,000 flight operations a year. About 600 planes are based there, and 13 companies have hangars and planes -- some of them large jets -- at the facility.

Remmel said the proposed new rules would force airports like his to hire security coordinators, devise a complex security program and provide additional training for police officers responsible for the airport. Remmel said additional training alone could cost $100,000 a year.

"Of course none of this has any funding or training to back it up," he said.

Doug Carr, spokesman for the National Business Aviation Association, said his organization is trying to determine what the new regulations would cost its 8,000 members.

"There's no such thing as a free regulation," Carr said.

Doug Barrett, manager of Fulton County Airport-Brown Field, said about 140 planes are based at his airport, 60 percent of them jets.

He isn't surprised the government has turned its attention to general aviation after years of focusing on big airports. If new rules come, he said, airports like his will have no choice but to make the required changes.

"You have to in the national scheme of things," Barrett said. "But nothing comes without costs."