The FAA has reaffirmed its position that states cannot impose restrictions on persons who want flight instruction. In a letter that will be used to support AOPA's lawsuit against Michigan's pilot background check law, FAA Deputy Chief Counsel James Whitlow wrote, "We believe that the regulation of airman qualifications is appropriate only at the federal level, and these recent rulemakings by both the FAA and the TSA are further evidence of that." He cited the new rules allowing TSA and the FAA to revoke an airman's certificate based on threats to national security.
AOPA filed a lawsuit in federal court last August contending that a Michigan law requiring criminal background checks for flight students was unconstitutional. The most recent FAA letter is further evidence that Michigan's state law has indeed gone too far. "A state cannot regulate who can fly in the nation's airspace," said AOPA President Phil Boyer.
Since 9/11, AOPA has successfully defended against several attempts to require criminal background checks on flight students, including attempts in Florida, New York, New Jersey, and Illinois. Michigan is the only state to have actually passed such a law.
Legislators in Illinois recently agreed to work with AOPA and stopped action on a pending bill there.