The International Council of Aircraft Owner and Pilot Associations (IAOPA) is reiterating its opposition to the use of deadly force against civilian aircraft that are not an immediate threat to national security. IAOPA was responding to an August 19 announcement from the White House that the United States was resuming the "Airbridge Denial Program," a drug interdiction assistance program, with the Republic of Colombia.
The program provides technical assistance, including surveillance aircraft, to assist in tracking aircraft that might be engaged in illegal drug activity. 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," IAOPA still maintains that deadly force against civilian aircraft cannot be justified.
"We support aggressive efforts to stop drug smuggling," said Phil Boyer, IAOPA 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 U.S. State Department insider has told AOPA-USA's Washington office that resumption of the Airbridge program with Peru is now also under consideration. However, some American congressmen have expressed deep concern about the program.
Meanwhile, representatives from AOPA-USA plan to meet with the State Department to review the details of the "safeguards" in the Colombian Airbridge Denial Program.