The White House announced today the resumption of the "Airbridge Denial Program" with Colombia, the U.S. drug interdiction program allowing the use of deadly force against civilian aircraft. This is the first of the "Airbridge" programs to resume after the tragic shoot-down of a missionary aircraft in Peru in 2001. While the White House said that Colombia now has "appropriate procedures to protect against loss of innocent life, AOPA and the International Council of Aircraft Owner and Pilot Associations reiterated opposition to the use of deadly force against civilian aircraft that are not a threat to national security.
"We support aggressive efforts to stop drug smuggling," said Phil Boyer, IAOPA and AOPA-US president, "but as was so tragically demonstrated in Peru, the risks of shooting down an innocent aircraft far outweigh the satisfaction of downing a drug smuggler. 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."
In the tragic incident in Peru, a fighter jet attacked a single-engine Cessna, owned by the U.S.-based Association of Baptists for World Evangelism, after a U.S. surveillance plane said it might be a flight ferrying illegal drugs. A missionary and her infant daughter died. The pilot in command was wounded.
A State Department insider told AOPA's Washington office that resumption of the Airbridge program with Peru is now also under consideration.
Many members of Congress have expressed their concerns for resumption of the program, including Senator Leahy (D-Vt.) who cautioned against the program on January 10, 2003, "I urge the administration to reconsider this policy. Yes, we want to stop drugs. Yes, we want to conduct aerial surveillance of suspected aircraft. But shooting civilian aircraft out of the sky when there is no cause for self-defense, no imminent threat to innocent life, and not even proof of illegality, I believe goes too far."
Congress resumes its schedule after the Labor Day holiday, but it has not been determined whether it will review the resumed program.
Meanwhile, AOPA will be meeting with the State Department to review the details of the "safeguards" in the Colombian Airbridge Denial Program.
(See " AOPA urges Congress to repeal foreign 'shoot down' authority," May 2001, and the AOPA issue brief.)