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While most travelers are well familiar with the security measures imposed by conventional airlines, it is unclear how they apply to private aircraft.

Is it possible for a private individual to charter a 747 for private uses? And if so, are there any security measures in place to prevent said private individual from misusing the aircraft?

(hopefully this question won't get me on the no-fly list) :)

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Why exactly do you need to know? –  Malvolio Apr 22 at 15:44
The question is whether something is stopping an evil person from chartering and flying a 747 (or a different plane of similar size). –  JonathanReez Apr 22 at 16:12
I was mostly teasing you. The odds that a terrorist would be investigating the countermeasures in order to defeat them are, I would think, low. –  Malvolio Apr 22 at 17:18
@Malvolio I would think just the opposite. I'd guess that they are constantly testing to see what they can and cannot get away with so that they can make plans for the future. –  Lnafziger Apr 23 at 2:41
@IanRingrose because it might be easier. –  Lohoris Apr 23 at 15:58

2 Answers 2

up vote 28 down vote accepted

Yes! You can charter large aircraft like the 747. A lot of airlines offer this service for large groups (sports teams come to mind), and there are also operators of the Boeing Business Jet that were created just for private and charter uses.

The TSA requires aircraft like this to adopt a security program called the Twelve-Five Standard Security Program (or TFSSP for short).

49 CFR Part 1544 contains the regulations which cover this.

Most of the security program falls under non-disclosure rules that prevent anyone with knowledge of the program from talking about it to people that don't have an operational need to know (and have also signed a non-disclosure). This helps to prevent people that would try to bypass the security measures in place from even knowing what to look for.

The regulations do specify the following though:

  • Each operator of an aircraft that weighs more than 12,500 lbs. that is used for scheduled or charter operations must adopt the program.
  • The program must be approved by the TSA.
  • The program must contain the procedures and description of the facilities and equipment used regarding:
    • the acceptance and screening of individuals and their accessible property, including, if applicable, the carriage weapons as part of State-required emergency equipment,
    • the acceptance and screening of checked baggage,
    • the acceptance and screening of cargo,
    • the screening of individuals and property,
    • the use of metal detection devices,
    • regarding the use of x-ray systems,
    • the use of explosives detection systems,
    • the responsibilities of security coordinators,
    • the requirements for law enforcement personnel,
    • carriage of accessible weapons,
    • carriage of prisoners under the control of armed law enforcement officers,
    • transportation of Federal Air Marshals,
    • aircraft and facilities control function,
    • the specific locations where the air carrier has entered into an exclusive area agreement,
    • fingerprint-based criminal history records checks,
    • personnel identification systems,
    • training,
    • an aviation security contingency plan,
    • bomb and air piracy threats,
    • flight deck privileges, and
    • the Aircraft Operator Implementation Plan (AOIP).

As you can see, there is quite a bit that goes into the TFSSP. Two of the biggest things though are the requirement for all flight crew members to undergo a fingerprint based criminal background check and that access to the flight deck must be restricted.

For more details, refer to the actual regulations which cover this in more depth.

NBAA also has a page about the TFSSP.

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Thanks! This is the kind of answer I was looking for. –  JonathanReez Apr 22 at 17:57
I did not know that there was no many way someone was allowed to take a gun on a aircraft! This list does not make me feel safer. –  Ian Ringrose Apr 23 at 13:16
@IanRingrose It isn't for the average person. Just like on the airlines, a gun can not be accessible in flight, must be unloaded, etc. Federal air marshals, certain law enforcement officers, etc. can have a gun on an airliner as well. –  Lnafziger Apr 23 at 13:21
@IanRingrose That was one of the arguments against allowing pilots to carry guns as well, but at least in this case it is a trained law enforcement officer. It isn't impossible, but it is less likely since they are trained to protect it and keep it from falling into the wrong hands. To be honest though, after what happened during the September 11th attacks, I can't see passengers letting even a person with a gun into the cockpit of an airplane. A chance of being shot is better than certain death when they crash. Most of these are rare though and won't be on every flight. –  Lnafziger Apr 23 at 13:31
Lnafziger - no, of course. I suspect it's not entirely difficult to blow up the plane, but hijacking is in fact very hard. –  Illidanek May 28 at 14:29

I haven't spoken to any terrorists, so the only source I have for this is Bruce Schneier, but apparently, they're hard to pull off. Objectively, this makes sense; if they were easy, there would be more of them.

For the sake of not referencing any actual living or dead person, let's call our supposed terrorist "Hans Gruber". Hans has enough money to charter a 747 and the desire to terrorize someone. How does he go about it?

  1. If he charters the plane himself, takes control of it, and then crashes it into something (the Nakatomi tower, perhaps), and succeeds, then he dies. Surprisingly, I don't know of many people who are (a) willing to commit terror, (b) willing to personally die for their cause, and (c) multimillionaires.

  2. Okay, what if Hans puts up the money but hires someone else to fly? Well, money comes from somewhere and charter operators tend to remember you when your passenger hijacks and crashes your 747. Suddenly now you have the authorities after you. Plus, there's no guarantee that the person you hired is going to get the job done.

  3. Okay, but what if Hans is the president of a group of shell companies that can funnel money here and there and disguise the source? Sorry, no good there either. The more people who know about your plan, the more likely the NSA knows about it. At some point (and I would guess that point is not very large) more people in the know results in diminishing returns.

  4. Okay, but what about an opponent who has lots of money, enough willing people to pull off the plan, resources to get them in place and provide the proper training, all while disguising the source? A vast conspiracy? Well, yes, those exist. They're called nations, and other nations go to war with them over things like that. But at that point, it's not really terrorism anymore, is it?

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+1 for "Hans Gruber" –  OSE Apr 22 at 15:03
Objectively, if terrorist attacks were easier to pull of than they actually are, there would be more of them. That doesn't mean they're really hard though. –  Marcks Thomas Apr 22 at 15:15
Point 1 is not 100% valid. Although I don't know of anyone who is willing to commit terror and personally die for their cause; these people exist as was evident in the September 11 attacks in USA, 7 July bombings in London, etc. Plus you don't need to be a multimillionaire. Charter rates are around $40,000 per hour. –  Matt Wilko Apr 22 at 15:23
lol, my favorite part of this answer is when you point out that nations are really just vast conspiracies. Good one there :). In reality the best points are 1(a)(b)(c). Supremely irrational people with resources are, thankfully, few and far between. –  Jay Carr Apr 22 at 15:37
I honestly don't see why this answer is so heavily upvoted - it doesn't address the question in the slightest. Also, 9/11 was funded by millionaires, i.e. Bin Laden. –  Danny Beckett Apr 23 at 23:31

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