Mr. Tom Blank
Associate Under Secretary for Regulation and Policy
Transportation Security Administration
GSA Building, Room 3034
400 Seventh Street S.W.
Washington, DC 20590
RE: Emergency rule prohibiting international operations of general aviation aircraft
This letter is a follow-up to a conversation we had regarding the emergency security restrictions general aviation aircraft are subject to when conducting international flight operations to and from the United States. As you know, international general aviation operations have for years been subject to strict, highly structured, and tightly monitored regulatory requirements—more so than all other modes of personal and business travel. U.S. Customs, the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS), and the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) have regulatory and enforcement responsibility for securing our borders.
Since September 11, 2001, by emergency regulation, general aviation aircraft have been restricted from international operations to and from the United States, unless under the express authority of an FAA/TSA waiver to conduct the operation. According to U.S. Customs, in the 13 months since the emergency regulation was instituted, over 120,000 private aircraft have been cleared (via the waiver process) to operate into the United States.
AOPA believes that the current Homeland Security climate is conducive to lifting the September 1, 2001, emergency security restriction on international operations by general aviation aircraft. The international waiver requirement is an unnecessary, expensive, and time-consuming process that essentially duplicates the existing U.S. Customs and INS regulations. U.S. Customs, INS, DEA, and the permanent Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ) provide the security oversight necessary for protecting the United States and its citizens.
The U.S. Customs Service is the lead agency charged with securing U.S. borders and have primary enforcement jurisdiction for general aviation aircraft arrivals and departures. Customs regulations apply to all civil aircraft of both U.S. and foreign registry as follows:
Flight plan requirement—General aviation aircraft arriving from a foreign location are required to be on an IFR or VFR flight plan and must furnish to U.S. Customs a notice of intended arrival that includes the following information:
A U.S. Customs officer must be present to provide Customs service when an aircraft arrives at the designated landing location. Immediately upon arrival, all crew and passengers are required to submit to Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) for immigration processing and inspection.
Failure to meet these requirements subjects the pilot and passengers to civil and criminal penalties.
Designated Customs airports—General aviation aircraft coming from foreign locations are required to land at the closest U.S. Customs-designated airport to the border or coastline crossing point. There are 29 designated U.S. Customs airports that meet this requirement.
Documentation and examination on arrival—General aviation aircraft are required to report directly to U.S. Customs for inspection immediately upon arrival. The pilot must produce for inspection a valid airman certificate, medical certificate, and the aircraft registration certificate. Crew, passengers, and baggage will be examined in the same manner as that of other international travelers, using designated declaration forms.
Immigration requirements for general aviation aircraft—All arriving crew and passengers must report for INS inspection immediately upon arriving in the United States. All persons who are not U.S. citizens or permanent resident aliens are required to present a visa. U.S. citizens must provide proof of citizenship by use of a passport, birth certificate, or other documents that support a claim of citizenship. Most other alien visitors are required to present a valid passport and must execute and present Form 1-94, Arrival/Departure Record.
Special reporting requirements for southern border, Pacific, Gulf of Mexico, and Atlantic coastlines—U.S. Customs has identified general aviation aircraft as high-risk vehicles for narcotics smuggling from these locations. Therefore, special reporting procedures have been instituted.
All general aviation aircraft arriving in the United States via the Mexican border or Pacific Coast from a foreign place in the Western Hemisphere south of 33 degrees north latitude must give a notice of intended arrival to the Customs Service at a designated airport nearest the point of the first border crossing.
All general aviation aircraft arriving via the Gulf of Mexico and Atlantic Coast from a foreign place in the Western Hemisphere south of 30 degrees north latitude, from any place in Mexico, or from the U.S. Virgin Islands, must furnish a notice of crossing to U.S. Customs. The aircraft must then land at a designated airport for inspection.
A one-hour advance notice of the coastline or border penetration is required for aircraft arriving from Puerto Rico for aircraft that are not conducting an IFR flight plan. The same applies to those private aircraft that have flown beyond the inner boundary of the Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ) south of 30 degrees north latitude on the Atlantic Coast, beyond the inner boundary of the Gulf Coast ADIZ, south of the U.S./Mexican border, or beyond the inner boundary of the Pacific Coast ADIZ south of 33 degrees north altitude and that have not landed in a foreign place.
All outbound flights must be on an IFR or VFR flight plan. Many countries, including Canada and Mexico, require advance notice of a general aviation pilots' intent to arrive in those countries. General aviation aircraft carrying passengers or cargo for hire or compensation must also comply with clearance requirements specified for commercial aircraft as set forth in Part 122, Customs Regulations. Aircraft leaving the United States for a foreign destination may also be subject to a search by Customs officers.
AOPA supports reasonable aviation security measures that do not unnecessarily restrict air commerce. We agree with Under Secretary Loy when he stated to the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation that he wanted to bring common sense into the aviation security area and eliminate or modify unnecessary rules. We also agree with his statement to the committee that mobility is an inalienable right.
In doing our part to help, AOPA has begun implementing its national AOPA Airport Watch program modeled after the successful Neighborhood Watch programs across the country. The AOPA Airport Watch program enlists the more than 385,000 AOPA members to watch for and report possible terrorist or criminal activities at our nation's 5,400 public-use airports.
Because light general aviation aircraft have a limited operational range, they are almost exclusively arriving from border countries that subject them to the high degree of regulatory oversight as outlined above. A waiver requirement for cross-border GA operations is redundant, in that it duplicates current U.S. Customs and INS regulations and serves no useful purpose. AOPA therefore requests that your office take steps to immediately cancel the emergency restrictions and thereby eliminate the waiver requirement.
Thank you the opportunity to provide you with information about international general aviation aircraft operations. AOPA looks forward to continuing to work with you and your staff in finding ways to keep our aviation transportation system safe from terrorism using a common-sense approach and without unnecessary rules and restrictions.
Andrew V. Cebula
Senior Vice President, Government and Technical Affairs Division
September 26, 2002