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Attention, Illinois pilotsAttention, Illinois pilots

The Honorable Angelo Saviano
Assembly Registration and Regulation Committee
State Capitol
Springfield, IL 62706

Dear Chairperson Saviano:

The Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA) is a membership association consisting of over 392,000 pilots and aircraft owners nationwide including 13,700 in Illinois. On their behalf, we urge your opposition to Assembly Bill 3084 pending before the Illinois Legislature that would license flight schools and impose criminal background checks for individuals seeking flight training. Passage of this legislation does nothing to enhance security or protect the citizens of your state, but would impose an unnecessary restriction and encumbrance on those who seek to learn to fly—an activity regulated and controlled by the federal government.

Our objective as an association is to promote the interests of those who use general aviation (non-commercial and non-military flying) to fulfill their transportation needs. Locally, these pilots are your friends and neighbors who have chosen to go through the federally mandated training and become a certificated pilot. The federal government oversees aviation to ensure safety, efficiency, and security of both the aviation system and the nation as a whole by regulating the operations of aircraft, airports, and airspace.

General aviation is important, encompassing a fleet of 219,000 aircraft including everything from ultralights to balloons to helicopters to corporate jets. Together, they fly 145 million passengers a year to 18,345 local community airports.

AOPA strongly opposes Illinois Assembly Bill 3084 because it is preempted by federal requirements for aviation safety and security. The federal government has taken numerous actions to address aviation security concerns, making Assembly Bill 3084 unnecessary. President Bush and the leaders of the U.S. House and Senate enacted legislation creating the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, which formally took authority for aviation security March 1. This new department provides a national framework to defend the nation. In addition, provisions of Assembly Bill 3084 would adversely affect pilots, flight schools, flying clubs, and businesses that support aviation in the state.

Federal preemption

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) issued a legal opinion that state and local governments cannot pass laws regulating pilot licensing. This was contained in a letter (attached) dated October 15, 2002, to AOPA's general counsel from the FAA's Chief Deputy Counsel James W. Withlow. The FAA offered the opinion that "state legislation that requires the collection of personal information from prospective students, including fingerprinting and background checks, or disqualifies prospective students based on specified past criminal conduct would likely intrude into an area that Congress has preempted. Congress has reserved to the [FAA] Administrator the authority to regulate 'civilian schools giving instruction in flying.'"

The letter also expressed the importance and efficacy of uniformity in aviation security, and this is an appropriate role for the federal government to play. The FAA deputy counsel wrote that, "The qualifications of the person operating aircraft are determined according to federal rules and should not be subject to standards varying from state to state."

AOPA has filed a lawsuit that is pending before the U.S. District Court in eastern Michigan challenging legislation similar to Illinois Assembly Bill 3084 that was enacted by the Michigan Legislature. AOPA contends the law is a violation of Article VI, clause 2 (the "supremacy clause") of the U.S. Constitution.

Federal actions on aviation security

Since the tragic events of 9/11, the federal government has taken numerous actions related to aviation security. These federal actions include the following:

  • There is tremendous scrutiny of the FAA's pilot database by security official. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) adopted regulations on January 24, 2003, that permit the FAA to immediately suspend, revoke, or refuse to issue an airman certificate to anyone that the TSA has determined poses a threat to transportation security. The new rules, which apply to a student pilot since the student pilot certificate is a certificate issued by the FAA, went into effect immediately since the agencies issued them as a direct and final rule.
  • Current restrictions on flight training of foreign nationals;
    • U.S. Senator Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) has introduced a bill (S.236) that expands this existing federal requirement for background checks to cover all foreign nationals seeking pilot training. Senator Nelson's bill would remove the aircraft weight requirement and make it applicable to all foreign nationals seeking to receive flight training regardless of size (currently it is limited to aircraft weighing more than 12,500 pounds). It is expected that the 108th Congress will pass this legislation.
  • A requirement was adopted by the Federal Aviation Administration on October 28, 2002, at the urging of AOPA and with the support of key congressional leaders that requires a pilot in command to have in his/her possession a government-issued photo identification along with their pilot and medical certificates.
  • A federal requirement for background checks of foreign individuals seeking to receive a U.S. pilot certificate on the basis of a foreign pilot certificate was put in place in July 2002.
  • In January, the FAA issued a number of recommended actions addressing security for flight schools and fixed-based operators. With these recommendations, operators are already addressing security appropriate for their particular operation.
  • The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) has partnered with AOPA to develop a nationwide aviation watch system—Airport Watch—that is supported by a centralized toll-free hotline and system for reporting and acting on information provided by general aviation pilots. The Airport Watch program includes warning signs for airports, informational literature, and a training videotape to educate pilots and airport employees as to how security of their airports and aircraft can be enhanced.

Adverse impact on aviation in Illinois

Locally, Assembly Bill 3084 will create a burden on local flight schools that must maintain records and the Department of State Police who must conduct the checks.

In 2000, there were nearly 3,500 new student pilots and more than 21,500 active pilots in Illinois alone. Administratively, this bill will be very costly while providing no effective security enhancement.

This legislation could possibly deny individuals their right to receive flight training or rent aircraft in Illinois. This bill creates unnecessary and arbitrary hurdles that will drive business out of state, increasing the economic burden Illinois flight schools have been trying to carry since the September 11 tragedy.


We believe it is important that security requirements do not undermine the national transportation system. That is why we are concerned with a patchwork of state laws. The U.S. Congress has provided the responsibility for regulating the safety and security to the federal government.

AOPA is committed to ensuring the continued safe and secure enhancement of aviation. General aviation contributes more than $102.1 billion annually to our nation's economy. Flight training is the foundation of the aviation industry; with more than 90 percent of our nation's airline pilots learning to fly at civilian flight schools, these schools are a key component to the future of our industry.

Any state law requiring flight students to submit to a criminal background check prior to enrolling in flight training is not only unnecessary given the degree of federal security regulations, but sends a negative message that discourages potential flight students. Federal regulations that ensure individuals who pose a threat to national security are denied the ability to fly an aircraft adequately address the concerns of any state legislature and do so with a national standard. State laws can only reach to the borders of the state. Comprehensive federal laws can protect all Americans.

AOPA would gladly discuss in greater detail our efforts with Airport Watch or any other general aviation security concerns with you and other members of your committee. We hope you will recognize the efforts our national leaders are putting forth to improve aviation security and will not pass any law that could potentially jeopardize those efforts. Please contact me directly at 301/695-2221 to establish a time in which we can discuss these matters in greater detail.


Andrew V. Cebula
Senior Vice President
Government and Technical Affairs


Cc: Bill Blake, AOPA Great Lakes Regional Representative

March 3, 2003

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