Are Small Airports Terror Targets?

They are a soaring real estate trend: fly-in communities called air parks.

"Every house has a paved taxiway to the runway," says Lesley Hock, an Eagle's Nest Air Park realtor.

Amenities include your very own community airstrip, your own personal hanger and the freedom to come and go as you please.

"There's really no security in regards to living with your airplane," says Hock.

And, as CBS News Correspondent Bob Orr reports, that's the fear. These general aviation airstrips, like the one in Eagle's Nest in western Virginia, are an open invitation for terrorists.

"I think it's a real concern," says airport manager John Trissel. "I think it's a possibility."

There are 19,000 general aviation airports in the United States, and most are like Eagle's Nest, with just a single landing strip. There are no fences, no gates, no security systems and no federal requirements to have them.

Since Sept.11, 2001, the government has not ordered Trissel to make any security changes at his airport.

Would-be passengers and luggage are not screened, says Trissel.

"We haven't really implemented the razor wire, the big tall fences, the security gates," says Trissel.

Trissel says he tries to keep a close watch on the planes and strangers, but former National Transportation and Safety Board managing director Peter Goelz says, that's not security.

"Homeland Security has to make general aviation and business aviation a priority," says Goelz. "They've got to develop a program, and they're going to have to spend some money on it."

He says terrorists are well aware of these small insecure airports.

"That's where they learned to fly," says Goelz. "We know the terrorists trained at small aviation systems.

"We know that two of the Sept. 11 terrorists left a plane on the runway at a Florida airport."

Some argue that there's no need to worry because these are small aircraft. But packed with explosives, small planes could be devastating bombs.

"A small plane taking off from a remote airport is going to be virtually untrackable and will suddenly appear into a restricted area - into a high population area, and there's going to be nothing we can do about it," says Goelz.

After Sept. 11, a student pilot in Florida stole a small plane and crashed it into a Tampa skyscraper. Authorities tracked the flight on radar but were powerless to stop it.

But two years later, there've been no mandated security changes.

"We need to make it a real concern and deal with it and try as best we can so that it will never happen," says Trissell.

Until then, vulnerability will be the price for general aviations freedom.
  • Jaime Holguin

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