Safety Publications/Articles


Ramped by the TSA

A cooperative approach to security

Here they come

Understanding AOPA's Project Pilot

Since AOPA launched its expanded Project Pilot in June (see "Instructor Report: Meet AOPA's Project Pilot," August AOPA Flight Training), AOPA members have already nominated several hundred potential new students into the program--and these students are making their way to flight schools to begin taking lessons.

AOPA Project Pilot will help to grow America's pilot population by providing student pilots with the support that they need to complete their flight training. It calls on each of AOPA's 408,000 members to identify a strong candidate for flight training, help them get started, and support them as they work toward their certificates. The Project Pilot Mentor is not the student's flight instructor; the Mentor's primary role is to help the student find a convenient flight school and then provide encouragement, motivation, and support throughout the training process, supplementing the instruction provided by the student's CFI.

For more information on the program, see the Web site.

Most pilots look forward to an FAA ramp check with the level of enthusiasm associated with a long-delayed root canal.

Now another federal agency has initiated ramp checks. These new ramp checks are courtesy of the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), which is particularly concerned that flight instructors understand all the new national security requirements, especially those of the Alien Flight Student Program (AFSP).

Word of TSA requirements (see "Instructor Report: Are You Ready?" AOPA Flight Training, April 2006) has been slow in getting to the flight instructor community, particularly those of us who instruct on a part-time, freelance basis. In the AOPA Air Safety Foundation Flight Instructor Refresher Clinics that I teach around the country, it's not uncommon for half or more of the CFIs in each session to look puzzled when asked if they have completed the required TSA security awareness training.

Nonetheless, it's been two years since the rules were issued, and all active flight and ground instructors--as well as flight-school employees who have direct contact with students--are required to comply with them. To ensure that compliance, TSA inspectors have started making personal visits to instructors, looking at our operations. I know because I was ramped recently by the TSA.

The two TSA inspectors who came to visit me didn't just show up, flash a badge, and ask to see all my TSA documentation. They made an appointment at my convenience, were very helpful, and offered some good information about complying with the new security requirements.

In fact, when it was all over I actually felt more like I had been with colleagues interested in supporting the same industry I do--flight training. The business card one of the TSA inspectors gave me carried the title "security specialist," a title that certainly seemed appropriate. They spent about an hour with me offering information about spotting potential threats to our airport and even our nation's security. They made some good suggestions on how to increase the level of security on our little airport in south Texas.

Most of the information they offered I had already seen, because I had completed my required initial security awareness training through the TSA Web site. Although they didn't ask for it, I showed them the completion certificate (full information on the required training is available on AOPA Online).

Much of our conversation focused on the AFSP. It appears the TSA has made some progress on speeding the security checkout of foreign nationals who wish to obtain flight training in the United States, although the process is still somewhat complicated. It appears, too, that gaining an understanding of the system, having a digital camera, and stockpiling needed materials like fingerprint cards and FedEx envelopes will speed the security check process.

If you're training a non-U.S. citizen, you'll have to upload information on your student and yourself to, including a digital picture of the student. In addition, you'll have to get your student's fingerprints taken by a law enforcement agency or an airport that provides fingerprinting services and send the original prints to TSA, either by mail or courier service. Your student can't do that for you.

Although actual flight training can't start until the TSA sends both you and the student an approval e-mail, you can minimize delay in starting training by sending the fingerprints via an overnight courier service, and printing out the tracking notification proving receipt by TSA.

Although I can verify that completing all the paperwork for a non-U.S. flight student is a hassle, I also try to remember that the terrorists who attacked us on September 11 were trained by CFIs just like me. Viewed in that light, the exercise becomes just another administrative procedure on the way to earning a pilot certificate. If you are new to training foreign flight students, all you need to know is on AOPA Online.

During my ramp check, the TSA inspectors gave me suggestions on keeping records on each student, whether or not they are U.S. citizens. Since the federal aviation regulations already require me to keep training records, adding copies of a passport or birth certificate and photo ID doesn't seem too onerous. For U.S. citizens you have the option of endorsing your logbook and the student's that appropriate documentation was presented. This eliminates privacy issues about how copies are stored and who has access to them.

Flight instructors are supposed to obtain security training before giving instruction. When I did that back in November 2004, I was told there would be a requirement to get annual refresher training, and that has come to pass--although a waiver is currently in effect that gives CFIs 18 months from the date of initial training, or until January 1, 2007, to accomplish the recurrent training. A link to the recurrent module can be found online.

According to Celio Young, the TSA security awareness training manager in Alexandria, Virginia, recurrent training must include information about security procedures at your airport. That information might comprise an outline of security measures, as well as information on any crimes that have taken place at the airport recently, such as break-ins, thefts, and the like.

During my ramp check, the TSA folks seemed mostly interested in seeing that I would be able to spot somebody seeking flight training in order to do us harm. They told me about a presentation regarding AOPA's Airport Watch program that I could bring to the attention of my airport manager.

So far I have found that working with the TSA is pretty straightforward. Even during ramp checks, cooperation appears to be the agency's motto. As flight instructors we should make it ours too.

Patrick Shaub is an active airplane and helicopter flight instructor, senior lecturer for AOPA Air Safety Foundation, and co-owner of Eagle Training Solutions in Burnet, Texas.

By Patrick Shaub

Back to the Index of Instructor Reports