Friday, December 10, 2004
Airport’s security reviewed after second odd incident
By Janene Scully The Santa Maria (CA) Times
Even before a second bizarre incident within three years put the spotlight on the Santa Maria Public Airport’s security, federal officials had their eyes on other shortcomings.
The latest incident – a man who tampered with a cargo plane after entering the airfield through a hotel door last week – involved only one security concern, authorities told the Santa Maria Public Airport District Board of Directors Thursday night.
“Transportation Security Administration is concerned about access to the airfield as is Union Flights, owner of the aircraft tampered with,” General Manager Gary Rice said in a written report. “There have not been many incidents of incursions and unauthorized access, but this was notable due to the mental state of the perpetrator.”
Authorities initially downplayed the incident, saying it serves as proof that the security measures work.
Dan Boudreau, the airport’s TSA representative, attended Thursday’s meeting and said his agency believes the airport needs to beef up security.
“It’s been an ongoing concern,” he said, adding regular assessments pinpointed deficiencies. “One of the concerns was this.”
The airport isn’t secure if someone can easily enter through a door, he noted.
“We’ve seen other issues. This is a catalyst. It’s not an impetus,” he said, citing another incident of someone riding a bicycle on a taxiway.
TSA is responsible for making sure airports are safe.
“We’re not talking about an armed encampment. We’re talking about a little bit tighter security … ,” Boudreau said.
Board President Carl Engel Jr. said the majority of the five directors support the efforts.
“I’m sure that there’s three board members here that will go along with you on what we need to do to make this airport more secure,” Engel said.
On Nov. 30, Nipomo resident Bobby Simpson accessed the ramp via an unsecured door at the Santa Maria Radisson. With his 8-year-old son in tow, he allegedly was tampering with a private cargo airplane, reportedly saying he was Jesus Christ and claiming ownership of the plane.
Boudreau said three Santa Maria police officers were hurt, one possibly with a career-ending injury.
The incident came three years after a 6-year-old developmentally disabled boy entered the airport perimeter fence, and was near the runway when a military jet performed a touch-and-go maneuver. The boy was critically injured, likely by the vortex of the landing aircraft or a rock kicked up, according to authorities.
Officials initially indicated the two incidents were aberrations.
“How many people proclaiming themselves to be Jesus Christ come through Santa Maria?” Rice asked. “Is it a fluke? I don’t know. Let’s put it this way, it’s highly unusual.”
Simpson, 42, pleaded not guilty Monday to felony assault on two police officers while resisting arrest, felony tampering with an aircraft, and misdemeanor counts of pulling a fire alarm and being under the influence of methamphetamine, said Santa Barbara County Senior Deputy District Attorney Mag Nicola.
“It’s TSA’s opinion, my opinion and I believe the airport’s opinion, that we need to tighten up a little bit,” Boudreau said. “We need to tighten up ingress and egress.”
In an earlier interview Rice said he is chagrined that the district was in the process of properly securing the door, and completed it Dec. 3. That system now requires codes – handed out by hotel staff – for those who need to access the ramp.
“The fortunate thing about it is it’s not a fineable thing from the FAA perspective because it’s too far from the air carrier’s ramp and that’s the only thing they can ding us on,” Rice said. “We’re fortunate that we have between the Radisson and the air carrier ramp, we have like half a mile.”
Authorities want to limit access on the airport, so those entering the north side hangar area don’t drive on the airfield to reach the southern area.
That rankled new board member Michael Houser, who balked at the idea of badges and increased security measures that prohibit general aviation enthusiasts from driving around the airport to access the opposite side.
Director Hal Herich also opposed stringent security.
“This is a public district. Every taxpayer that pays money into this airport has a right to be on this airport,” Herich said, adding its fortunate that the people who use it most are general aviation pilots. “We can’t restrict the public from their airport.”
“The White House is a public building too, but people don’t have the right to wander there,” Boudreau said.
Rice said he hopes to add equipment that would allow use of proximity cards with magnetic strips to access gates. Linked to a computer, the system would tell who entered the airport and when they did.
General aviation enthusiasts have argued against such security measures, saying they only keep “honest people honest.”
“That, to me is the best control,” Rice said. “I’m sure people are upset with that, but that’s how you know who is going on and off your airport.”
Access to the ramp from the hotel has been one of the Santa Maria airport’s marketing tools through the years. Rice said it’s one reason Net Jets chose to move its operations to the airfield.
Additional security such as cards registering those entering the airfield is a fact of life in 2004.
“From my perspective it’s almost like arguing motherhood and apple pie. This will provide at least some additional measure of protection,” Rice said. “You just don’t have free will going on and off airports anymore.
“There’s always going to be detractors, but from my perspective that’s the way to go,” he said. “It’s a minor inconvenience in relation to the protection we gain from it.”
This door leading to ramp behind the Santa Maria Radisson now has a security system that limits access.