Confusion reigns over TSA flight training rule

November 15, 2004

Confusion reigns over TSA flight training rule
Pilots tell AOPA they didn't know it applies to them

TSA flight training rule
Does it apply to you?

The TSA flight training rule is much broader than many pilots think. Chances are, you will have to comply with it now or sometime in the future.

You must comply with TSA's flight training rule if you are:

  • A U.S. citizen seeking a new certificate or rating (except in an airship, balloon, or glider).
  • A flight instructor providing training for a new certificate or rating.
  • A flight school.
  • A resident alien or U.S.-visa holder seeking flight training.

AOPA has gathered all the facts in one place to help you understand how this complex rule affects you, whether you are a U.S. citizen, resident alien, or foreign visitor. Visit " AOPA's Guide to TSA's Alien Flight Training/Citizenship Validation Rule" to learn more.

One thing is clear: The Transportation Security Administration's new alien flight training/citizenship validation rule is confusing to most pilots, students, flight instructors, and flight schools.

"From my talks with pilots during Pilot Town Meetings last week in Georgia and Florida, I know there is still a great deal of confusion about this rule," said AOPA President Phil Boyer. "Most pilots don't know if the rule applies to them, and those that do are unsure of how to register and comply with the rule.

"And flight instructors are particularly unhappy about being turned into de facto immigration agents," Boyer said.

AOPA is working with TSA to resolve the many issues with the rule (see " AOPA to help TSA revise citizenship validation rule"). The association has been vocal in exposing the problems and has had some success in getting clarifications and changes to the rule (see " TSA amends parts of new flight training rule"), including a change to allow a simple logbook entry to show that a student's citizenship was properly validated.

"Pilots are used to dealing with regulations," said Boyer, "but this one, crafted in a vacuum without input from the flight training industry, is incomprehensible.

"We appreciate the TSA's efforts to repair this flawed rule, and we pledge to work with them to solve the remaining problems. Hopefully the next time TSA makes a GA security rule, they'll take advantage of AOPA's expertise from the start. Then we won't have to make piecemeal changes after the fact," Boyer said.

A recent AOPA poll of flight schools shows the extent of the confusion caused by the rule. The survey found that only one school in 10 knew about the rule and, more importantly, that they were legally required to enforce it.

"One flight instructor at a Pilot Town Meeting this week said he told his student from India the he shouldn't come back to the United States to finish his flight training because of this rule," said Boyer. "But this is just an example of how intelligent people used to reading federal regulations are having problems; this particular student would have been 'grandfathered' because he had started training before the rule's implementation date of October 20."

Other flight instructors expressed concern over enforcement. They wonder what kind of penalties they might face if they mistakenly validate a student as a U.S. citizen.

"'I'm not trained as a document inspector,' is a common complaint I've heard from instructors," said Boyer.

Pilots attending the Pilot Town Meetings also had questions about the new sport pilot certificate and whether it would allow them to fly their aircraft without a medical certificate.

"AOPA's 'Member Guide to being Sport Pilot Ready' does a great job of answering all the important questions," said Boyer, "and it's available online." ( Click here to download a copy. Also see AOPA Online's Sport Pilot page.)

Finally, some members had questions about the possibility that flight service station services might be contracted to a government/industry partnership or a commercial vendor.

"AOPA will continue to fight to ensure that basic safety of flight information is provided free to pilots, now and into the future," said Boyer. "But you also have to look at the math. Flight service stations cost close to $600 million a year to operate, and general aviation is pretty much the sole 'consumer' of those services. But GA only pays $60 million annually into the aviation trust fund. That imbalance can't continue. The flight service station system has to be modernized and made more cost effective." (See " Modernizing flight service.")

November 15, 2004