Do you know where your airplane is?
Did you hear the one about John and Martha King of King Schools nearly being arrested at gunpoint in Santa Barbara, California? For being airplane thieves? Its news stories like this that make you do a double take, and this one yielded some pretty bizarre circumstances. The 2009 Cessna 172 that the Kings were flying August 28, 2010 had been assigned the same registration number as a 1968 Cessna 150 that had been stolen eight years before. When they arrived in Santa Barbara, they were detained by police with guns drawn for about 30 minutes before the affair was straightened out, as their IFR flight plan had flagged a system alerting an intelligence center that the aircraft was stolen, as was then reported to the local police.
Between an aircraft stolen eight years ago causing police to approach with guns drawn, and the cross-country flying spree taken by Colton Harris-Moore the so-called Barefoot Bandit until his capture earlier this year, light general aviation aircraft theft has been in the news lately. Single-engine piston aircraft are the most common type of stolen aircraft, but there are several things owners and pilots can do to help prevent, or at least discourage theft.
First, take the key with you. A key left in the aircraft in plain sight does nothing to deter a would-be thief. Next, if your aircraft has door locks, use them when you will be away from the aircraft. This includes leaving it overnight at an FBO, tied down on a ramp, or in a hangar. If your aircraft does not have a keyed ignition, this is all the more important. If you hangar your aircraft, make sure the hangar doors are locked when the hangar is closed.
There are other types of anti-theft devices for aircraft, ranging from combined control, throttle and avionics locks to simple propeller locks and wheel locks. Consider these especially if your aircraft is left
unattended on unsecured ramps.
Just like no pilot plans on having an accident, no pilot plans on their aircraft being stolen, tampered with, or damaged either. While these measures may not prevent a truly determined individual from stealing the aircraft, it may provide just enough.