June 27, 2004
The increased presence of public charter airlines at Scottsdale Airport leaves some residents questioning if there are enough security measures in place to prevent potential hijackings and terrorist attacks.
Western Express Air and Dynasty Air began operating at the city’s airport earlier this week, offering regularly scheduled flights to Lake Havasu City and Laughlin, Nev. Neither passenger nor lugga ge screenings are required by law for charter services that offer four or fewer flights a week.
"I am shocked they don’t require screenings for passengers," said Scottsdale resident June Johnson. "Scottsdale is a very vulnerable place. They have to know who’s flying in and out of this airport."
Johnson is a former member of the disbanded residents group Quiet Skies, which opposed noise at the airport.
A federal official said the measures suggested by Johnson are unwarranted.
"We don’t believe general aviation airports and charter flights are a specific threat, but we do want to help mitigate their vulnerabilities," said Andrea McCauley, regional spokeswoman for the Transportation Security Administration.
There have been no hijackings reported at general aviation airports, she said. The agency, which oversees security for all airports, provides security guidelines rather than regulations for general aviation airports such as Scottsdale Airport.
Required security measures, McCauley said, would place an unfair burden on general aviation airports that typically do not have the same revenue streams as large commercial airport such as Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport.
"There is a partnership and certain things we suggest, but the TSA’s oversight is limited," she said.
The agency’s security recommendations concerning charter aircraft passengers include: Verifying their identities, ensuring luggage is known by the occupants and checking that all passengers are on board are at the invitation of the owner or operator.
"Absolutely anyone in this country carrying a weapon or explosives can walk through the terminal and on to any of the regularly scheduled Western Express or Dynasty Air flights," said John Hoeppner of Cave Creek, who is leading a fight against noise at the airport.
"We think we are safe and things can’t happen, but when you leave a gaping hole in the security system, the likelihood of someone taking advantage of it is great," he said.
Hoeppner said he also is concerned because Dynasty Air plans to begin offering service to three Mexican destinations — Puerto Penasco, Loreto Bay and Alamos.
"The way Scottsdale seems to be weaving together a network of these quasicommercial airlines is troublesome and they are putting citizens at a degree of risk," Hoeppner said. "For $79 and bad intentions, a terrorist can have their way."
Assistant airport director Chris Read said the city is not luring or promoting more public charter services.
"It is up to them. If they have an idea for service, they apply for a permit and we go from there," Read said. "I don’t know if these two showing up here all of the sudden is an indication of a trend. These may be the only two that come here."
Three public charter aircraft services operate at the airport. Dynasty Air and Western Air Express joined Grand Canyon Airlines, which began operating last Oct. 25. There are 13 charter companies doing business at the airport, but the other 10 are private carriers.
"We came here partially because of the demographics," said Tim Berger, vice president of operations for Western Air Express. "People who stay in the resorts out here want to go to Laughlin."
While neither of the companies requires passenger or luggage screenings, Grand Canyon Airlines does require all passengers under the age of 18 to present proper identification.
"The presence of more charter airlines causes me great concern," said Phil Vickers, a member of the Scottsdale Airport Advisory Commission. "I don’t think it would be wrong to require passenger screenings. It would just put another level of security between us and the terrorists."