TSA amends parts of new alien flight training rule

October 20, 2004

TSA amends parts of new alien flight training rule
AOPA calls move "only a start...many more changes needed"

TSA chief to speak at AOPA Expo

Transportation Security Administration (TSA) chief David M. Stone will be speaking at 9 a.m. PDT on Friday at AOPA Expo. The free general session will mark the first time that the head of the TSA has met face-to-face with AOPA members. If you can't make it to Long Beach, California, for the show, look for coverage on Virtual Expo immediately following the event. There will be a recorded audio/video presentation as well a story hitting the highlights in text form.

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The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) has made some last-minute modifications to its alien flight training rule, but much work remains on the fundamental problems with the rule, according to the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association.

"The recent changes are a start but just that and only that," said AOPA President Phil Boyer. "While some of our recommended changes have now been implemented, let there be no question: Significant issues still exist, and additional amendments to the original rule must be made if it is ever going to be appropriately effective and realistically workable. My staff and I will never let go of this issue until substantial changes are made," Boyer vowed.

Some progress was made this morning. In a phone call today with AOPA President Phil Boyer, TSA head Admiral David Stone pledged to keep open the path for continuing dialogue between the TSA and AOPA and pledged to work with the association regarding all remaining issues.

In the beginning

In its original rule, TSA mandated that all 635,000 U.S. certificated pilots - including some 85,000 resident aliens - have their identification and citizenship verified and recorded, among other onerous provisions. Flight reviews and aircraft checkouts for pilots with a U.S. certificate don't now require citizenship verification. The original date for complying with this rule is today, October 20, 2004. Almost nothing has been done to prepare the aviation community for this rule, including instructing the country's 88,000 CFIs who would be required to collect and file the information.

After the recent actions of AOPA, TSA elected to delay the compliance for aliens currently holding an FAA certificate, providing a 60-day exemption to December 19, 2004, with compliance taking effect December 20, 2004. However, aliens receiving training in the United States for the first time must comply with the rule now. That means, starting today, instructors involved in this training will have to meet the new TSA requirements.

As originally written, the rule required flight instructors to verify a "candidate's" citizenship status prior to providing any kind of flight training, including flight reviews, in aircraft weighing 12,500 pounds or less.

"We understand the motive and the rationale for the rule," said Boyer. "But the plan is impossible to execute in the manner and time frame outlined by TSA. And that, among other issues, makes this an unrealistic rule."

One small step...

Midday today, TSA filed changes to the rule including limiting the applicability of the rule's "citizenship validation" to individuals receiving training for a new certificate or rating. Previously, it required proof of U.S. citizenship for virtually any time an instructor was involved with a flight. Now, after AOPA's efforts, only when an individual is training to receive a new rating or certificate do they need to prove their U.S. citizenship. Any other activity - such as a BFR - does not require proof of citizenship.

At the urging of the association, TSA has also changed the record-keeping requirements for flight instructors and flight schools. The first version of the rule required that flight instructors keep copies of a pilot's proof of citizenship (passport or birth certificate) for five years.

The revised rule - amended after the association affirmed the effectiveness of aviation record keeping throughout the world - now requires that flight instructors review the pilot's citizenship documents and note in the pilot's logbook that the flight instructor has determined that the pilot is a U.S. citizen and eligible to receive flight instruction. AOPA helped amend the rule to allow proof of citizenship to be noted by an endorsement in the CFI's and student's logbooks indicating that the pilot is a U.S. citizen and eligible to receive flight instruction.

"TSA is turning flight instructors into unpaid border guards, throwing up bureaucratic citizenship test obstacles in front of loyal Americans simply wanting to learn how to fly. This rule also potentially treats loyal resident aliens as potential foreign terrorists," said Boyer.

"TSA was formed less than three years ago and understandably doesn't have the accumulated institutional knowledge of more established agencies," Boyer said. "But they chose to create this rule in a vacuum, and by doing so, they failed to tap into the vast knowledge of the aviation industry, the FAA, and other government agencies as to the realities of a fragile flight training industry.

AOPA in action

AOPA had petitioned TSA to defer the rule's implementation until its many problems could be resolved. And key members of Congress, including the chairman of the House aviation subcommittee, Rep. John Mica (R-Fla.), also asked for a 90-day deferral.

"They now have a huge mess on their hands, along with some extraordinarily irate U.S.-certificated pilots, as I can personally attest from the thousands of e-mails and phone calls I've received," said Boyer.

The head of TSA, Rear Adm. David Stone, will learn firsthand what pilots think of the flight training rule when he addresses AOPA Expo 2004 at this Friday's general session in the Long Beach Convention Center.

Get in touch

AOPA has also set up a special e-mail address for member questions to Adm. Stone about the flight training rule. TSA has pledged to answer questions on the rule. "Please send your comments to this mailbox, which has been specifically set up to collect concerns and share them with TSA besides being read by myself and AOPA staff," said Boyer. "The rule created these problems; now it has to be fixed."

What hasn't changed is the requirement that flight instructors notify TSA when a non-U.S. citizen seeks flight training. Instructors must also send TSA a photograph of the pilot applicant, taken by the flight instructor.

"These requirements are absurd. They place an unfair burden on the flight instructor to do a job that rightly belongs to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (formerly INS) and TSA," said Boyer. "Flight instructors aren't trained to be document inspectors like a border guard, nor should they be expected to be mug-shot photographers."

An important issue that must be resolved is for resident aliens, people who hold "green cards" and are lawfully residing in the United States. There are some 85,000 resident aliens with U.S. pilot certificates, and they have essentially the same rights and privileges of U.S. citizens with the exception of voting. U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (an agency of the Department of Homeland Security) has already thoroughly investigated their backgrounds, yet they're treated as potential foreign terrorists under the rule.

"It's ridiculous to apply this rule to existing pilots," said Boyer. "Their citizenship has already been established; it's printed right on the pilot certificate. And TSA has had three years now to cross-check the names of certificated pilots against their terrorist watch list."

"A rule this major should have been developed with the input of the industry," said Boyer. "And there should have been time allowed for interpretation and education of those affected.

"AOPA should have been an ally to TSA in developing this rule that was mandated by Congress. And we should have been a part of the education and information efforts on implementing it. We had the model with the Airport Watch program.

"Now TSA has forced us into the position of loud protestor," Boyer said. "They haven't heard anything yet."

October 20, 2004