Travelers who fly on private corporate jets would have to clear background checks before boarding under a new proposal made Thursday by the Transportation Security Administration.
The TSA is seeking to impose the security requirements on roughly 15,000 corporate jets and 315 small airports that currently have none.
A group of private-plane owners and pilots warned that the proposal could be costly and represent an unprecedented intrusion into private flying. Hundreds of thousands of people travel each year on such jets.
There is no specific threat to corporate jets, but the TSA said in its 260-page proposal that many are the same size and weight as commercial planes "and they could be used effectively to commit a terrorist act." Private jets, possibly packed with explosives, could fly into a building or could transport terrorists or dangerous materials, the TSA said.
"This is an important milestone," said Michal Morgan, TSA head of general aviation security. "It's the evolution of security into a new operating environment."
The proposal would take effect next year at the earliest and be phased in over two years. The TSA said it would cost $200 million a year, with corporate jet owners paying 85%.
Passengers would have to be checked against a terrorist watch list, just like airline passengers. They would also have to give their names and birth dates. The TSA says the checks would likely be done by companies that specialize in the process.
Morgan said passengers who regularly fly on corporate jets could be cleared once and would not have to face background checks again. Pilots of corporate jets would also have to pass criminal background checks.
The proposal does not require physical screening of passengers and does not regulate more than 150,000 smaller piston planes.
Andy Cebula, government-affairs chief for the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association, warned that the TSA might try to regulate the small planes in the future. "It's a big step," Cebula said. "It would be like if you were driving your car and now you had to go through a background check."