Local airport considering security changes

After pilot boards plane with loaded gun

By Nate Delesline III

choCharlottesville-Albemarle Airport officials confirmed on Monday that they are considering possible changes to their flight crew security policies after federal officials last week charged a Piedmont Airlines pilot with bringing a loaded handgun onto a flight that departed from CHO on Wednesday.
The pilot, Brett Dieter, 52, of Barboursville, faces a federal charge of attempting to carry a weapon or explosive on an aircraft. Dieter could not be reached for comment Monday. He was released following an initial court appearance and is scheduled to return to U.S. District Court in Buffalo, N.Y., on Wednesday.

According to an affidavit filed Friday in New York by FBI Special Agent Daniel M. Bradley, the gun, a loaded Smith & Wesson .357 revolver, was found in Dieter’s bag by a Transportation Security Administration officer at a security checkpoint at Buffalo Niagara International Airport.
Federal officials allege he made seven flights over two days with the gun in his bag. Officials said Dieter is not a member of the federal Flight Deck Officer Program, which allows commercial pilots to carry firearms in the cockpit on duty.

In the affidavit, Dieter told officials that he forgot the gun was in his bag following a personal trip to Virginia Beach.
A TSA spokeswoman said the agency is conducting a review of the case.
Around the country, the protocols and policies that govern flight crew and pilot access vary, according to Bill Pahuta, the interim executive director of Charlottesville’s airport, and there is no federal policy that requires all flight crews to be screened before entering sensitive areas. However, individual airports may implement security policies that are more stringent.

“We can do that and we’re taking a look at that,” Pahuta said, adding that they haven’t set a timetable on deciding if that’s a change they’d like to pursue.
If airport officials do decide to pursue a policy of regularly screening all flight crews, Pahuta said Charlottesville’s challenge will be designing the infrastructure to do so while maintaining enough mobility to allow flight crews to effectively do their jobs.
In addition, airport spokesman Jason Burch also said that consideration must extend to maintenance and delivery workers that need to frequently transition between secured and unsecured areas.

“We’ll be talking with our federal security director out of Richmond and we’ll see what light we can shed on the issue,” Pahuta said.
Pahuta acknowledged the incident has provoked legitimate concern in the aviation world, but said the fact that there is no federal policy on aircrew security screenings indicates to him that federal officials must not consider the issue a major safety concern. Pahuta has worked at CHO and in aviation for nearly 40 years.
Although Dieter may have meant no harm, William J. Hochul Jr., the U.S. attorney for the Western District of New York, said in a statement that the incident is still a serious violation.

“While under certain circumstances, certain government officials — such as sworn law enforcement officers — are allowed to travel with firearms on airplanes, the law is clear regarding the steps that must be taken before a gun is brought onto a plane,” Hochul said. “In today’s day and age, we simply can’t afford to have anyone ignore these important regulations, all of which are designed to protect the traveling public.”