The Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association is urging Congress to repeal the law that led to the shoot down of an American missionary aircraft in Peru.
In a letter to every member of the House of Representatives, AOPA President Phil Boyer asked for support for H.R.1818, a bill introduced by Representative Collin Peterson (D-Minn.), a pilot and AOPA member. That bill would eliminate the authority for employees and agents of the U.S. government to assist foreign countries in interdiction of aircraft suspected of drug-related operations.
"This legislation is necessitated by the tragic incident in Peru, predicted by AOPA 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," Boyer wrote Congress. "The use of deadly force against aircraft is fundamentally wrong and a violation of international law intended to protect civilian pilots and their passengers."
In 1994 Senator John Kerry (D-Mass.) added, over AOPA's opposition, shoot-down authority to the Defense Authorization Act of 1995. Representative (now Senator) Bob Torricelli (D-N.J.) introduced similar legislation in the House. In essence, the law grants immunity from prosecution to U.S. officials and contractors who assist foreign governments in tracking and shooting down aircraft suspected of drug operations.
At the time, AOPA told members of Congress and the State Department that it was much too easy to misidentify an innocent civil aircraft and warned that there were no iron-clad procedures that would prevent the downing of an innocent aircraft.
AOPA's prediction tragically came true April 20 when a Peruvian fighter jet attacked a civilian Cessna 185 one hour after a U.S. surveillance crew said it might be a flight ferrying illegal drugs. An American missionary and her baby daughter were killed.
Although some have faulted a breakdown in procedures, Boyer told Congress, "Another tragedy will not be prevented by simply adding more guidelines or procedures. The law that H.R.1818 seeks to repeal contains numerous well-intended guidelines, and it will again be ignored in the heat of the moment by foreign governments that do not share our views on the rights of the individual."
Boyer noted that AOPA supports efforts to fight drug smuggling and suggested that there are effective alternatives to the use of deadly force. The same modern technology and superior intelligence information that makes it possible to identify a suspected aircraft in the first place could just as easily be used to track the aircraft to its landing point where officials could arrest the suspects.
The Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association was founded in 1939 to protect the interests of general aviation (non-airline, non-military aviation). General aviation comprises 92 percent of all aircraft flown in the United States—some 220,000 aircraft flown by more than 640,000 pilots. More than one half of all U.S. pilots belong to the 370,000-member AOPA.