TSA to begin regulating private planes

The Transportation Security Administration is planning a massive expansion of aviation security that for the first time will regulate thousands of private planes now flying with no security rules. The new regulations, expected to be proposed in coming months, stop short of passenger screening, but would aim to prevent someone from flying a small plane, possibly packed with explosives, into a building. Authorities also worry about terrorists transporting hazardous materials or themselves on private aircraft, said Michal Morgan, TSA head of general aviation security.

Glen Winn, former United Airlines security chief, told USA Today that the threat is real. Some small airports reserved for private planes "really don't have a lot of security," which would make it easy for someone to steal a small jet, Winn says. "There's a huge window that's open, and I do believe they've got to close that."

Corporations and aviation groups are watching closely as the TSA prepares to regulate roughly 15,000 private planes that are seen as a convenient alternative to commercial flights. The planes fly in a network of 4,700 small airports -- 10 times the number of commercial airports -- that rarely have delays and often sit closer to city centers, says Robert Olislagers, executive director of Centennial Airport near Denver, one of the busiest small airports.

Security regulations could hamper some convenience, aviation groups worry. "The new security proposals must be workable and should strike the right balance between the need for security and formobility," says Dan Hubbard, spokesman for the National Business Aviation Association, a trade group for businesses with private aircraft.

USA Today reports that the new regulations, which would apply to planes that weigh more than 12,500 pounds, would most likely require measures such as checking flight crew backgrounds, parking planes in secure areas and inspecting planes. "We've worked very closely with industry to garner as much input with respect to what is operationally feasible," Morgan says. It is not clear whether passengers would get background checks.

Many but not all private operators already safeguard their planes.The new rules will "provide a standard of security for a community that doesn't have one right now," Morgan says.

The regulations come as Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff has voiced concerns about terrorists using private jets.The department has proposed doing background checks of people flying on private planes into the United States and is looking at tightening security for small airports and for businesses such as fuel dealers that operate on them.

Eric Byer, head of government affairs for the National Air Transportation Association, which represents companies that service business jets, told USA Today that new security rules "will be alittle bit of an inconvenience" but might draw some passengers who now are worried about private planes. "Having a program like this will make (private planes) even more secure," he says.