Statement of Phil Boyer
AOPA Legislative Affairs
COMMITTEE ON GOVERNMENT REFORM
SUBCOMMITTEE ON CRIMINAL JUSTICE, DRUG POLICY AND HUMAN RESOURCES
U.S. HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES
The Honorable Mark Souder, Chairman
The Honorable Elijah E. Cummings, Ranking Member
U.S. Air Interdiction Efforts in South America After the Peru Incident
May 1, 2001
Good afternoon, my name is Phil Boyer, and I am president of the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association. AOPA enjoys the financial support of over 371,000 dues-paying members. Our objective as an association is to promote the interests of those who contribute to our economy by taking advantage of general aviation aircraft to fulfill their business and personal transportation needs. More than half of all pilots in the United States are members of AOPA, making it the world's largest pilot organization.
I am very pleased to have the opportunity to submit comments for the record regarding air interdiction efforts in South America. In my capacity as president of the International Council of Aircraft Owner and Pilot Associations, comprising 56 national AOPA-type organizations worldwide with a total membership of more than 400,000 aviators, I have already publicly condemned Peru's April 20 attack on this civilian aircraft. The aircraft was clearly unarmed and no immediate threat to Peruvian interests.
This tragic situation was predicted by our organization in 1994 when we opposed the U.S. plan to furnish radar tracking and targeting information to South American governments to be used to intercept and shoot down drug smugglers. In the attached letter to the U.S. Department of State, sent in June 1994, AOPA warned members of Congress and the State Department that it is much too easy to misidentify an innocent civil aircraft. And today I will again state that condoning the use of deadly force against civilian aircraft is fundamentally wrong.
AOPA supports efforts to fight drug smuggling. However, as we saw in Peru, even ordering an aircraft to land is not comparable to a highway patrol officer ordering a car to pull onto the shoulder. An order to land can be difficult to communicate, even more difficult to accommodate, and, in many cases, dangerous. The International Standards, Rules of the Air, published by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) state that an aircraft interception should be undertaken "only as a last resort" and that "interceptions of civil aircraft are, in all cases, potentially hazardous."
After the shooting down of a missionary plane in Peru, people are beginning to have questions about the effectiveness of the U.S.-led drug interdiction program overseas. While this has been called an "isolated incident" by the administration in the war on drugs, the danger of civil aircraft interceptions has been demonstrated before. Trained military personnel, using the most advanced equipment, have demonstrated with tragic results that it is possible for a relatively slow-moving airliner to be mistaken for a fast-moving military jet fighter. While AOPA supports all reasonable anti-drug efforts, this "shootdown" policy can lead to tragic consequences for innocent pilots. Following the KAL 007 disaster in 1983, the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) had unanimously adopted modifications to Article 3 to the Convention of Civil Aviation, stating that "every State must refrain from resorting to the use of weapons against civil aircraft in flight." It appears that the Peruvian fighter pilot who shot down the missionary aircraft did not fully comply with the ICAO intercept and identification procedures.
As we stated in our June 1994 letter, "How can anyone feel assured that a Cessna carrying members of Congress on an overseas fact-finding mission could never be mistaken for an identical Cessna full of drug smugglers?" But there are effective alternatives to the use of deadly force, alternatives in which the consequences of mistake are far less likely to result in injury or death. Utilizing the same modern technology and superior intelligence information that makes it possible to identify a suspected aircraft in the first place, one could quite easily continue tracking such an aircraft to its point of destination. Aside from minimizing the consequences of mistake, this approach would preserve evidence and potential witnesses who may be able to help lead authorities to their superiors in an international drug smuggling cartel.
Because of potential multi-national jurisdictional issues, AOPA recognizes that additional international agreements might be required to facilitate this approach. We are confident that the State Department is capable of securing the necessary cooperation of other nations in the war on drugs.
In conclusion, we call upon ICAO and every world nation to renew their commitment to not use force against civil aircraft. More effective measures that do not have fatal consequences can be used to bring alleged violators to justice.
Mr. Chairman, thank you again for the opportunity to present our views.