April 15, 2014
By Elizabeth A Tennyson
The recent warrantless stops and searches of general aviation flights have drawn the attention of mainstream media. On April 15, the Los Angeles Times published an article citing the high number of stops and searches involving law-abiding general aviation pilots.
“We’re glad to see this issue coming to light beyond the general aviation community,” said AOPA President Mark Baker, who was quoted in the Los Angeles Times article. “While general aviation pilots are being targeted now, there’s a bigger issue here—the respect for constitutional rights. Everyone suffers when an agency tasked with enforcing the law repeatedly oversteps its bounds.”
One pilot who was interviewed for the article told the Times he was mystified when he was stopped and his aircraft searched after a flight from Southern California to Detroit. The officers brought a drug-sniffing dog and told the pilot, who is a retired police officer himself, that he was stopped because his long flight was suspicious.
Similar incidents have been reported nationwide. The reasons for the stops by Customs and Border Protection have included frequent landings at airports, travel to remote airports, travel to states where marijuana sales are legal, and even flying east from California. In addition, AOPA has recently received numerous reports of individuals claiming to be law enforcement officers calling FBOs and asking them to report on arriving flights, specifying that the pilot should not be made aware of the scrutiny.
While CBP has provided Congress with some information about the incidents, that information has been incomplete and inconsistent. AOPA continues to seek answers, pursue face-to-face meetings with CBP leadership, and work with Congress and other government agencies to put an end to the stops.
During his recent confirmation hearings, CBP Commissioner Gil Kerlikowske committed to undertake a commissioner-level review of CBP’s activities relating to general aviation. AOPA is strongly urging Kerlikowske to make the review a top priority.
Director of Government Affairs and Executive Communications Elizabeth Tennyson joined AOPA in 1998, the same year she earned her private pilot certificate. She also holds an instrument rating and enjoys jumping out of planes almost as much as flying them.
AOPA expressed concern in a meeting with town officials from East Hampton, New York, that restrictions proposed to curb airport noise “overwhelmingly” generated by transient commercial flights would unfairly burden traditional airport users.
The FAA on Feb. 23 issued a special airworthiness information bulletin recommending preflight inspection of Robinson R44 and R44 II main rotors.
Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK) talks about the Pilots Bill of Rights II, which includes a provision to allow private pilots to fly an aircraft with up to six seats, weighing up to 6,000 pounds, VFR or IFR, without a third class medical certificate. The bill also reforms the NOTAM system, and provides more legal protections for pilots accused of regulatory infractions.
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