Stolen Airplanes Prompt New Government Alert - KLTV.com - Tyler, Longview, Jacksonville |ETX News

9/05/02 - Tyler

Stolen Airplanes Prompt New Government Alert

   Security on commercial airliners has been chief on the government's radar screen since 9-11. But, now the Feds warn small planes may be targets for terrorists. Pilots say they're very easy to steal, and most vulnerable in some out of the way places.

   "By far, any new car is much harder to get into," says Johnny Johnson of Sparrow Avionics at Tyler Pounds Rgnl. Airport.

    All it takes to take off with someone else's plane are basic flying skills... and the ability to hot-wire or pick a lock.

   "[There are] very inexpensive lock systems to gain entry to the aircraft," Johnson says. "If someone wants to steal your airplane, they know what they want to do."

   Some planes have propeller locks. But many just have two chains tying down each wing. Someone can be inside and off the ground in no time.

   "Most aircraft can be started without any additional keys," he says.

   The saving grace at Pounds Field: 24-hour security, locked gates and people all around.

   That's not the case at small county airstrips, where the FBI has warned terrorists might target. And at night, a thief can light up the runway himself and be gone.

   Johnson: "With a code, just key up his radio so many times and the lights are turned on."

   "Everybody on the airport is a little more aware," says Brian Ridgley, who is based at Cherokee County's Airport, where many folks leave at 6pm. Deputies patrol through the night.

   "You tend to watch things more. Actually, [leaving] the doors open on airplanes outside? I don't think about doing that anymore," he says.

   At all airports, many small planes aren't in closed hangars. While they can't do nearly the kind of damage we saw on 9-11, they are exactly what the September hijackers trained on.

   Just seven small planes have been stolen this year in the U.S. East Texas pilots say the problem was worse in the 70's and 80's. Many of those planes headed out of the country, and into the hands of drug traffickers.

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