Fuel Thefts at Cyril E. King Airport Raise Security Questions


July 7, 2008 — Badges are required to enter the secure areas of the Cyril E. King Airport, but security measures aren't preventing fuel thefts from private airplanes stored there.
The fuel was stolen from 11 mostly privately owned airplanes parked on the north side of the airport, according to Michael Hancock of the St. Thomas Jet Center. Owners discovered the fuel missing when they came to check on their airplanes before the holiday weekend.
Most of the two- and four-seat airplanes affected were owned locally. More than 100 gallons of fuel was stolen, and one individual lost more than 40 gallons of fuel, Hancock said.
The airport is federal property and under the purview of federal authorities as well as the V.I. Port Authority.
Both the Federal Bureau of Investigation and V.I. Port Authority Police are investigating, Hancock said. VIPA sources were unavailable for comment at press time.
"In conformance with Department of Justice policy, the FBI can neither confirm nor deny the existence of an investigation," said FBI spokesman Harry Rodriguez.
Authorities believe the low-lead, high-octane fuel is being used to power such high-performance engines as those used in street rods or racing motorcycles, Hancock said. The volume stolen would overfill the average car or motorcycle gas tank, making high-performance power boats or even other aircraft suspect vehicles for receiving the stolen fuel.
The stolen fuel is too rich for regular car engines, explained long-time pilot and flight instructor Maurice Kurg.
A gas thief would have to have time on his hands and carry plenty of equipment.
"It would take quite awhile to siphon 40 gallons out of an airplane," Kurg said.
With aviation fuel prices currently at $5.65 per gallon, the incident is reminiscent of the siphoning spates that accompanied the early-1970s fuel crisis. Most airplanes do not have locking gas caps.
"You can fly quite awhile on 40 gallons." Kurg said. "That is $200 plus of avgas."
While the value of the gas stolen is a concern to individual owners, of larger concern is the breach of security at the airport.
The airport is surrounded by a fence topped with barbed wire, Kurg explained, and a VIPA swipe card is needed to access the area where the airplanes are parked. A guard shack sits at the gate on the north side of the airport, but it was unclear at press time whether it is manned 24 hours a day.
"If there have been 11 incidents at the airport, there are security questions that need to be answered," Kurg said. "They [VIPA] are going to have to come up with a better plan."
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