Small airport security review after Tupelo plane flew

COLUMBUS, Miss. (WCBI) – Saturday’s incident involving the plane stolen in Tupelo raised concerns about security measures at small airports.

Former member of the National Transportation Safety Board told The Associated Press on Saturday that the “vulnerability of small airports” has “worried security experts for years”.

“Although this plane is a small plane, it carries about 400 gallons of fuel, fully loaded,” says aviation consultant Mike Hainsey. “So he could have caused some damage.”

Many people feared the worst after Cory Patterson, 29, stole a plane and threatened to crash into a Tupelo Walmart on Saturday morning.

“You don’t see events like this often in aviation,” says Matt Dowell, executive director of Golden Triangle Regional Airport. “I know the investigation is still ongoing. And I’m sure there will be lessons to be learned once they’ve completed their investigation.

Dowell says one of the main reasons events like Tupelo are so rare is because of the multiple layers of security in place specifically designed to prevent them.

“There are vetting processes for pilots, for airport employees… multi-agency oversight,” Dowell explains. “I can’t really go into detail because there are these layers of security that are not available to discuss with the general public.”

In addition to their three commercial flights, the Golden Triangle regional airport is home to around thirty small private planes.

“One of the things that makes us unique is that we have commercial service, which means we have high security standards, just like other commercial service airports,” Dowell said. “We are held to the same standards as major commercial service airports.”

Federal Aviation Administration records show the plane was a Beechcraft C-90-A Turbrprop. Tupelo police said Patterson had completed flight instruction but was not cleared to fly the plane.

However, he had access to the plane due to his job at Tupelo Aviation.

“It’s very unusual for pilots with very little experience, just in the training world, to be able to start it, take it off,” Hainsey said. “And it’s even more unusual for them to be able to land it safely.”

Hainsey has decades of flying experience in the Air Force and as a civilian.

“In my 45 years of flying, I can count on one hand the number of times, nationwide, that this has happened,” he says. “It’s very rare because of the diapers, because of the steps people take to make sure it doesn’t happen.”

Dowell and Hainsey say that constantly updating safety is a vital part of the aviation industry, but any changes resulting from what happened in Tupelo may have to wait until the end of the ongoing investigation. by local, state and federal agencies.

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