This week, AOPA Legislative Action sent telegrams to AOPA members in the states and congressional districts of key members of Congress. These lawmakers will shortly be members of a House-Senate conference committee that will work on the Coast Guard Reauthorization Bill. The following is the basic text of the telegrams. Even if your member of Congress is not appointed to the Coast Guard bill conference committee, a message from you could help AOPA Legislative Action’s efforts on this issue.
Dear Fellow Pilot:
A bill pending in Congress could infringe on the rights of pilots—and even threaten our safety in the sky. It goes too far, and we need your help today to prevent it from becoming law.
The bill, S.1259, the Coast Guard Reauthorization Bill, contains a provision (Sec. 409) that will provide a wide range of new authority to U.S. law enforcement officers to help curtail maritime and aviation drug smuggling near our borders. This section could permit officers to order RANDOM aircraft to land without a reasonable suspicion of criminal activity. The bill could also make an aircraft owner responsible for paying thousands of dollars to reclaim an aircraft if it is seized for suspicion of smuggling, even if the owner is totally innocent of any wrongdoing.
In addition, S.1259 would make it a federal crime to fail to obey an order to land, subjecting pilots to a fine or up to five years in prison. There is little protection for the pilot who doesn’t understand that his pursuers are law officers, fails to understand the order to land, or can’t immediately land for safety reasons.
We know this legislation is well meaning, and we support anti-drug efforts overall. However, as drafted, this bill does not adequately protect pilots from being selected at random for a forced landing. Even worse, the aircraft interception could result in a tragic accident involving an innocent pilot.
Carefully crafted legislation developed by AOPA Legislative Action, including a reasonable suspicion requirement, can achieve the goal of fighting drug smuggling without jeopardizing safety or undermining the rights of pilots. Like you, AOPA Legislative Action fully supports the efforts to stop drug smuggling by air, and we have pledged our full cooperation to Congress to help them write better legislation to do that.
But our pledge may not be heard above all the noise generated in an election year, especially regarding an emotional issue like drugs. That’s why I’m writing to ask for your help.
A letter from you will help your elected representatives understand why this provision will undermine the safety of general aviation pilots.
Congress will meet shortly to decide the fate of this provision, so we must act now. So please tell your elected representatives that ordering random aircraft to land is not as simple as a traffic stop on a highway. Tell them they can be tough on drug smuggling and not infringe on your rights and threaten safety in the skies.
On behalf of general aviation pilots nationwide, I’m depending on you to give your senators the support they need to do what’s right. Here are the addresses:
|The Honorable (Representative’s name)||The Honorable (Senator’s name)|
|U.S. House of Representatives||U.S. Senate|
|Washington, DC 20515||Washington, DC 20510|
U.S. Capitol Switchboard: 202/224-3121
Please take a few minutes to make this essential communication to Washington. The future of general aviation could depend on it! And please send a copy of your letter to me at AOPA Legislative Action, 500 E St., SW, Washington, DC 20024 (fax 202/484-1312). Thank you.
Phil Boyer, President
AOPA Legislative Action
September 16, 1998