STOP THIEF — Protect Your Avionics

Are the avionics in your airplane yours or someone else’s? Avionics theft can be hard to detect, so hard in fact, that you may be flying around with someone else’s equipment. How can this happen? Read on!

THE THIEF cases the airport. He finds two planes with the avionics he wants in them. He picks the lock to break into Plane #1, and lifts the new Brand X GPS receiver right out of the panel, rack and all. He then goes over to Plane #2, and pulls only the new Brand X GPS receiver out of the panel. He then inserts Plane #1’s GPS into Plane #2’s panel.

TWO DAYS LATER, the owner of Plane #1 arrives and finds his plane pillaged. He calls the police, and after reviewing his logbooks, provides them with the serial number for HIS GPS RECEIVER. The police dutifully list it in their database. Meanwhile, the crook is out selling Plane #2’s GPS receiver. He has a clean serial number, since owner #2 got into his plane, and saw that everything was as he thought he had left it.

SIX MONTHS LATER, the owner of Plane #2 goes into the avionics shop for work. The shop pulls the GPS receiver, and imagine their surprise when the serial number turns up ON THE HOT LIST! After being called by the police, Owner #2 remembers the theft from his buddy’s hanger, and the police put out the word to look for Plane #2’s GPS receiver.

This can and does happen, EVERY DAY. However, with some good thinking, YOU CAN MAKE IT HARDER FOR THE CROOK TO PULL OFF THEIR CRIME.

Keeping your avionics in your plane where you left them isn’t rocket science and there are some things you can do right now that won’t cost you a dime…

START WITH A DAB OF PAINT. Place a dot of your wife or girlfriend’s or your own favorite nail polish on the exposed side panel of your radios, right where you can easily see it. Every time you get in your plane, look for the dabs. While most thieves are well-equipped, the chances are good that they won’t have your gal’s favorite color to match the dot. NO DOT? PULL THE RADIOS AND CHECK YOUR SERIAL NUMBERS. You can also make a small score mark with a file or knife blade to show which radios are yours. The problem with this approach is that such scores are easy to duplicate, so if the crook happens to notice them, you’ll lose your early warning system.

KEEP YOUR PLANE LOCKED. A locked plane takes longer to get into than an unlocked plane… if only a few minutes. They may bypass it for your neighbor, who didn’t lock his up.

UPGRADE YOUR LOCKS. The lock in the average airplane can be opened by one of 21 keys and can be opened in minutes without any of them. There are several better locks on the market. These new locks have hardened cylinders, which make them difficult to drill or punch out, and better yet, they don’t open with one of 21 keys that someone might have in their pocket.

KEEP YOUR PLANE IN A HANGER as much as possible. If a crook can’t see it, it is less likely they will have the time to go door to door looking for the avionics they want to swap or steal.

IF YOU ARE IN A HIGH-CRIME AREA, get an alarm system for your hanger. There are two types you can get:

  • SILENT alarms discreetly notify the local authorities and increase the chances that the criminal will be caught in the act. If your airport is remote in location, this alarm is probably your best bet.
  • LOUD AND NOISY alarms set off an audible alarm and notify the local authorities. If your airport is near homes, get the loud and noisy version. The last thing a thief wants is an audience, and the loud alarm system will give him just that. They are likely to flee if confronted with such an alarm in a populated region.

Community: IF YOU HEAR OF AN AVIONICS THEFT AT YOUR AIRPORT, check and see what was taken. Compare the inventory with your plane. If anything matches up with your avionics, CHECK THE SERIAL NUMBERS.

If you see ANY SIGNS of tampering, DON’T TOUCH THE AVIONICS. Call the police first, and let them have crack at the panel. The police can look for fingerprints on your aircraft and avionics, but only if they can get to it before you smudge them by removing the equipment from the panel.

BOTTOM LINE: When you think the time and money it will cost to replace them, a little bit of effort is well worth the results. Plus, the reasons for keeping your airplane secure go well beyond your own interests. After September 2001, the public is very skittish and lawmakers are chomping at the bit to make access to your aircraft more difficult. Why not beat them to it and help soothe the minds of the public as well. Take a moment to lock your airplane and mark your avionics. Install a proplock. Make it obvious to all onlookers that you won’t make bad things easy for bad people. The effort will be appreciated by fellow pilots and non-flyers alike.