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About Northeast Florida
Small Airports, Planes On Alert This Week
Federal agents with the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security are asking pilots and all other people who work closely with general aviation to be on high alert this week.
Agents say there's reason to believe terrorists could be trying to use small planes to attack the U.S. in the days leading up to the 10-year anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks.
Local pilots said they feel very safe when flying, saying security at small airports, such as Craig Municipal Airport in East Arlington, has improved dramatically since 9/11.
Still, they said they'll heed federal agents' warnings about the latest terror threat.
"We're not going to become part of the problem. We're actually part of the solution here," flight instructor Bill Cirmo said.
Cirmo has been flying for years. He said pilots and aviation workers who are most important in looking out for anything suspicious, notably on the heels of the latest terror alert.
The feds say as recently as this year, terrorists have considered renting private planes and loading them with explosives.
"This area is very tight-knit," Cirmo said. "We know everyone who owns airplanes here. We know the type of airplanes that are here, and if we saw someone that was actually doing something that was suspicious, it would raise alarms."
At Craig Municipal Airport, there are fences, barbed wire and coded gates for getting in. About 10 or 15 years ago, it was just an open field that anyone could literally drive their car out to an airplane.
Attorney and pilot Don Maciejewski said that while strides have been made to make general aviation safer, there's still a lot more people can do.
"It's very easy to go to a field like Herlong (Airport on the Westside), which is a non-tower controlled airport, and launch five to six planes with explosives in it and do something crazy," Maciejewski said.
While there's no specific evidence al-Qaida and other terrorists may be planning to use small planes as their next method of attack on the U.S., pilots say they can never be too cautious.
"The biggest thing ... is vigilance and awareness," Maciejewski said. "And I always tell people it's better to report something suspicious and find out it's not a threat than not to say something and find out it's a problem later."
The Department of Homeland Security recently launched its "See Something, Say Something" campaign. Federal agents ask if that if you see anything suspicious, call your local law enforcement office or dial 911.