The GAO letter to Congress accompanying the report notes that small airplanes taking off from general aviation airports do present a homeland security threat. The report points to Joseph Stack's February 2010 terrorist attack, in which he crashed a single-engine plane into an IRS building in Austin, Texas. Stack's suicide attack killed one IRS employee and injured many others.
Congress's watchdog also reminds members of Congress that larger airplanes taking off from general aviation airports present a 9-11-style threat as well. "Larger aircraft, such as midsized and larger business jets, could cause catastrophic damage to structures and pose a greater risk if they are located near major metropolitan areas."
More than 200,000 aircraft--both large and small--operate at more than 19,000 general aviation facilities within the United States. General aviation is any aircraft that does not have a commercial, such as cargo and passenger planes, or military purpose. Most aircraft are owned by private individuals or businesses and operate "on demand," meaning their flights are rarely scheduled.
In response to the report, the Department of Homeland Security agreed with the GAO report but stressed that general aviation operators do not have the money to improve their security posture.
"TSA would also like to note that while most airports would readily implement the security measures recommended by TSA, they are unable to put additional security measures in place primarily because of a lack of funding," wrote DHS's Jim H. Crumpacker, director of the Departmental GAO/OIG Liaison Office.
♦ Photo of aftermath of Joseph Stack's suicide attack by nivium/Flickr