LAS VEGAS, Nev. (FOX5) – A string of plane thefts starting in North Las Vegas and happening across the U.S. has alerted pilots everywhere to take precautions to protect their property.
FOX5 told you of the theft in North Las Vegas: a suspect burglarized planes four times, then stole a Kitfox and made a hard landing in the desert near Barstow. Airport officials later met with concerned pilots to discuss precautions and security measures.
Though plane thefts are rare, three have happened in the past six weeks. None are related, but all occurred out of general aviation airports with private planes.
On January 24, a North Carolina man stole a plane out of Addison, Texas and crashed it 90 miles north of Dallas near the Oklahoma border. Authorities determined the suspect committed suicide.
Then February 8, San Mateo deputies in the Bay Area said a Florida man stole a plane out of the Palo Alto Airport and landed it at a beach at Half Moon Bay. A motive has not been determined.
“I think it really got pilots’ attention. These type of things are very rare. And when they do happen, it really strikes at the heart of the pilot community,” said aviation attorney Jeff Lustick, who has been speaking with pilots about new precautions they’ve taken in recent weeks: tying down planes with chains, adding locks and even interior surveillance.
A surprise to many: many planes do not have locks, and many pilots leave planes unlocked.
“Some airplanes don’t have locks on the doors, and some don’t even have locks on the ignition. So it is easy to slip into a complacent feeling about security at an airport,” Lustick said. “There’s throttle locks, there’s chains that go around the propellers and the control yokes, there’s locks that can be placed on the doors. You can upgrade your door locks. The airport has said that we can also put surveillance cameras inside of our airplanes for those people that don’t have the airplanes inside of a hangar. So pilots are taking this seriously,” he said.
Aviation expert Michael McCarron, a former assistant deputy director at the San Francisco Airport, also explained how easy it is to steal a plane amid relaxed atmospheres at GA airports. “A private aircraft a single engine or even multi dual engine: if you have basic mechanical knowledge, you can figure out how to start it just like starting a car,” McCarron said. “A lot of times, especially in smaller airports, all the pilots there know each other, they handle each other’s aircraft. They’re very comfortable sharing that information and access. You have to balance the access and security,” he said.
McCarron advocates for increased personal security protocols from pilots, and additional airport security.
“It’s a different world now. We have to make change that balance a little bit more security, and maybe a little less access,” McCarron said. “That’s where you need the airport facility to make sure they have proper security to access the airfield, so both parties the airport and the pilots have to play together to figure out a solution that works for both parties,” he said.
McCarron advocates for uniform security, funding and overall increased security measures at all GA airports.
“That’s what the challenge is: is you have to find a security system that is comprehensive, makes sure it closes all possible loopholes, but still allows access to facilities for the people who need and have access to it to use it,” he said.
“GA airports are usually rural, often out in remote places. So there’s not a lot of eyes on the facility. They often are strapped for cash for installation facilities, for security, for runway improvements, all those things, they need to make an airport. That’s always a challenge: they have to balance where they put whatever money they do get,” he said.
North Las Vegas Airport answered FOX5′s questions about security recently. FOX5 is waiting to hear about any additional measures in light of full parking for private planes and jets during Super Bowl weekend.
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