March 13, 2014
By Elizabeth A Tennyson
Just days after he was confirmed as Commissioner of Customs and Border Protection, Gil Kerlikowske received a letter from AOPA asking him to immediately fulfill a commitment he made to review the agency’s zero-suspicion enforcement activities regarding general aviation.
In the March 10 letter, AOPA President Mark Baker noted that the association has now received nearly 50 reports of stops of general aviation aircraft made without a warrant, probable cause, or reasonable suspicion that illegal activity was taking place. Some of those stops involved officers with drawn weapons and dogs, and many resulted in aircraft being searched and passengers and pilots being questioned or detained.
AOPA began seeking information and answers about these stops from CBP’s Air & Marine Division in January 2013 and has yet to receive satisfactory responses.
The association is particularly concerned that the stops are being made without proper authority. In some cases CBP Air & Marine Division has said that it is stopping aircraft based on FAA regulations that require pilots to produce certain documents when asked by a law enforcement officer.
But AOPA contends that, while those regulations require pilots to comply after they have been stopped, they do not give CBP or any other law enforcement agency the authority to make a stop in the first place unless there is probable cause or reasonable suspicion of illegal activity. FAA, which does have the authority to conduct ramp checks, has said that it has not sought help from CBP or any other agency to carry out such checks.
“We need to know why general aviation is apparently being singled out for this kind of treatment, and we need it to stop,” Baker said.
AOPA will continue to seek cooperation from CBP and work with Congress, the FAA and others to bring an end to these incidents.
AOPA Senior Director of Communications Elizabeth Tennyson is an instrument-rated private pilot who first joined AOPA in 1998.
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