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AOPA challenges California county's background check ordinanceAOPA challenges California county's background check ordinance

Mr. Jerry Hill
San Mateo County Board of Supervisors
400 County Government Center
Redwood City, CA 94062

RE: Background Checks for Flight School Applicants

The Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association, the world's largest pilot organization, with 385,000 members, of which 47,458 members are California pilots, and represents the interests of general aviation—all flying except the airlines and the military, strongly urges the Board of Supervisors to reconsider the adoption of an ordinance requiring background checks on flight school applicants.

The issue is not aviation security. AOPA is a strong advocate for reasonable national measures that truly enhance security. The issue is who has the authority to regulate the training and licensing of pilots. Congress has clearly given that authority to the Federal Aviation Administration. Congress clearly saw that allowing individual states and municipalities to create their own aviation laws and security policies would result in a patchwork of conflicting laws that do nothing to improve security and do everything to inconvenience and harm innocent citizens.

Both the FAA and the Transportation Security Administration have examined flight school security and have determined that no new regulations are necessary for U.S. citizens at this time. The agencies have so far only implemented new rules governing foreign students taking flight training in the United States.

AOPA has taken active steps to enhance general aviation security. The association has filed a petition with the FAA to change the rules to provide for a more secure system to identify pilots. AOPA and the aviation industry have developed a 12-point plan to enhance aviation security nationwide.

I cannot urge you strongly enough to not adopt this ordinance. This ordinance will do nothing to ensure the safe, continuous, and efficient operation of your airport nor will it provide any degree of security. Please keep in mind, most of the 19 foreign nationals who committed the acts of last September passed similar background checks prior to being granted visas to enter the country and take flight instruction. Those who were in the country illegally simply used other means to accomplish their goal.

AOPA is aggressively fighting a similar state statute enacted by the state of Michigan in May of this year. In essence, the state law attempts to ensure general security by regulating who is allowed to fly in the nation's airspace. The law requires a criminal record background check through the FBI for any person enrolling in a flight training program to obtain a pilot license or to obtain a new certificate or rating (additional privileges for an already licensed pilot).

AOPA has filed suit against the state of Michigan on the basis that the Michigan law violates Article VI, clause 2 (the "supremacy clause") of the U.S. Constitution. A motion for a preliminary injunction filed after the suit argues that the state law is unfairly harming Michigan citizens and should not be enforced until the federal court rules on its constitutionality. Some flight schools have suffered a dramatic decline in new training applicants because of the law. The fees to comply with the law must be borne by the student and serves as a further disincentive for the flight training industry. A copy of the suit is available at


Anne Esposito
Vice President


Cc: C. Ford, ASN-SQL

September 26, 2002

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