July 10, 2004
AOPA President Phil Boyer took members' frustration over TSA's alien flight training rule directly to Congress Thursday morning. Boyer told Rep. John Mica, chairman of the House aviation subcommittee, that the rule takes something that should have been a straightforward, commonsense security measure and creates an impractical regulation with far-reaching consequences.
Mica's committee wrote the law that requires TSA to check for terrorists among the foreign nationals applying for flight training in the United States. But the committee was concerned primarily with large aircraft that have the potential to do significant damage.
"We support the intent of the law," Boyer told Mica. "But the implementation of the regulation for training in smaller general aviation aircraft negatively impacts more than 650,000 pilots, 85,000 resident aliens with U.S. pilot certificates, 93,700 flight students, 88,700 flight instructors, and some 3,400 flight schools."
Boyer asked for Mica's help in deferring application of the parts of the rule governing training in smaller aircraft until TSA and the industry can resolve some of its problems.
The rule requires all pilots who hold U.S. pilot certificates to prove that they are U.S. citizens or legal residents before they can even take a biennial flight review, Boyer told Mica.
That surprised the aviation subcommittee chairman, who agreed with Boyer that the rule went beyond what Congress had intended.
Boyer also told Mica that many AOPA members feel insulted by the rule and they consider some of its provisions an unwarranted invasion of privacy.
The rule would require pilots to prove their U.S. citizenship or resident status before taking any kind of flight instruction. If a pilot changes CFIs, he must go through the process of proving his citizenship all over again. Flight instructors and flight schools are required to keep copies of pilots' personal papers (passport, original birth certificate, or other documents acceptable to TSA to prove nationality) for five years.
But Boyer pointed out that holders of U.S. pilot certificates have already established their nationality and it is printed on their certificates. The additional proof shouldn't be necessary.
In addition to very basic concerns about privacy, Boyer also explained to Mica that most flight instructors don't have the resources to comply with the record-keeping requirements. Many instructors pass through the industry quickly as they move on to other flying jobs. These instructors don't have offices to securely maintain the kinds of files TSA is now demanding.
Boyer's presentation was reinforced by a letter from the Florida Aviation Trades Association, which told Mica that, "In Florida alone, the rule stands to affect over 49,000 pilots, nearly 7,000 of whom are student pilots receiving flight instruction at approximately 181 flight schools."
"We need to get this rule back to what Congress intended," Boyer told Mica. "TSA's implementation of the law has far-reaching consequences that the agency apparently never considered."
[See also AOPA's regulatory brief.]
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