Few Federal Rules for Private Planes and Passengers

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A California woman remains in federal custody after prosecutors say she tried to smuggle marijuana in a dozen suitcases on board a private plane. Investigators suspect she had done the same thing several times. The case raises questions about luggage screening on private aircraft. WOSU reports there are very few federal security mandates surrounding private aviation.

We all know what we have to go through before boarding a commercial flight. We have to take off our shoes, our coats, empty our pockets. Our bodies are scanned and our luggage is x-rayed.

But when passengers board private planes at the Ohio State University Airport they go through very little screening. No metal detectors. No body scanning. Their luggage is not checked.

There are few rules for private plane operations, and even fewer for its passengers. The Transportation Security Administration is in charge of security measures for the private aviation sector.

“For the most part you can walk right on,” Mark Hollander is a flight instructor at Ohio State University Airport.

He said TSA agents visit the OSU Airport, but not all the time.

“We do see TSA agents here. They do not have bomb-sniffing or drug-sniffing dogs. But you do see the TSA here on occasion. They were out here when it was busy for the Muirfield Tournament. And they do show their presence, but it’s typically on days when they know it’s going to be a high-volume traffic day,” he said.

It’s not like private planes get a free pass. Steve Lister is the security officer with Jet Select Aviation which operates out of Port Columbus. He said the TSA mandates background checks on pilots. Passengers must show a government ID and their names are checked against the government’s “No Fly” list before they board. But Lister said there is no requirement to screen baggage for items like explosives or drugs.

“There has not been a terrorist attack using a private jet that we know of. And so therefore it has not driven mandate by the TSA to change process,” Lister said.

Lister said some airports like Dulles in Washington D.C. and Boston require private passengers to go through security screening before entering the private aviation ramps.

“I would suspect over the course of the coming years you’ll see more and more private aviation facilities moving toward that type of screening,” he said.

Lister said Jet Select employees are trained to look for suspicious or unusual baggage or activity.

“What’s unusual-looking about a suitcase? Not much. So is there holes in that system? There certainly is.”

The security on private passenger planes, Lister said, is not a lot different than the security on cargo planes where packages are only spot checked.