Since the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks on the United States, general aviation security has not been seen as a serious threat because general aviation planes carry less fuel and are much smaller than commercial aircraft.
That changed, however, after a suicide attacker crashed a single-engine plane into an IRS building in Austin, Texas, in February 2010 in an incident that killed one person and injured 13 others.
Now engineering researchers at the University of Arkansas have created models of normal activity at general aviation airport using factors such as annual number of landings and takeoffs, total number of planes based at an airport, whether an airport has a traffic-control tower, and other detailed data.
The model creates a range of usual or normal activity, and any activity outside that range -- an unexpected spike in the number of takeoffs or landings, for example -- might be considered signs of a possible security problem, a university release said Tuesday.
"We want to understand the variation associated with usual general-aviation activity and operations, so unusual activity can be detected, analyzed and resolved," Justin Chimka, a professor of industrial engineering, said.
"Based on historical data, there are basic assumptions or expectations about what should be going on at these airports. Now we have to ask ourselves if reality -- what's really going on -- meets these statistical expectations," he said.
"If not, then we probably should look at it."
The research is being supported by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.