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AOPA-backed bill to repeal Michigan pilot background check passes committeeAOPA-backed bill to repeal Michigan pilot background check passes committee

Statement of Anne Esposito
Vice President, Airports
Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association

421 Aviation Way
Frederick, MD 21701

Before the


The Honorable Mike Nofs, Chairman


House Bill 4704

June 5, 2003

Good morning Chairman, distinguished members of the committee, I am Anne Esposito, vice president of airports for the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA). Bill Blake, AOPA's Great Lakes regional representative, joins me today. AOPA is the world's largest civil aviation organization, representing over 398,000 members who own or fly general aviation aircraft. On behalf of our more than 12,700 members in Michigan, we strongly support House Bill 4704 and encourage its passage.

House Bill 4704 would amend Section 85 of 1945 PA 327 and would repeal MCL 259.85. House Bill 4704 provides for a practical flight school security program that is designed to ensure that flight school aircraft are accessible only to those individuals who should have access.

This bill would insure:

  1. The positive identification of a pilot.
  2. Procedures to control aircraft keys.
  3. Instructional procedures for close student supervision.
  4. This would ensure that only those who need access to flight school aircraft could gain access.
  5. Enhanced security of airports. The AOPA Airport Watch Program, developed in conjunction with the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), provides the addition of instructional materials issued to airports to identify suspicious activity, providing signs to be prominently displayed that show contact information for reporting criminal and suspicious activity by using the federally operated 866/GA-SECURE hotline.

These actions will help ensure a secure environment for flight school activities.

The flight school security program proposed in House Bill 4704 is more appropriate and will better complement federal efforts on aviation security than the previously implemented criminal background check requirement. The provision in MCL 259.85 is unnecessary given the degree of new federal involvement in aviation and pilot training. Further, when MCL 259.85 is administered at the state level, the FAA laws and the new TSA laws potentially preempt it.

Michigan's laws can only reach the borders of the state. However, the pilot license is a federally issued license, and as such, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) sets the requirements for who is and is not eligible to receive pilot certification. This is why only the federal government's involvement in aviation security is so important. AOPA felt so strongly on the issue that a lawsuit was instituted challenging the criminal background check requirement of MCL 259.85.

When passed last session, some members of the legislature may have been unaware that the legislation enacting the criminal background check requirement would create a pre-exemption issue regarding federal legislation in which state law would be inconsistent or contradictory to federal regulations. In a letter to AOPA, the FAA's deputy chief counsel addresses this issue more specifically. In essence, the FAA makes the case that federal courts throughout the nation have upheld the concept that the FAA has comprehensive regulatory authority to govern aviation and aviation operations.

In addition, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) forwarded a letter to AOPA dated April 10, 2003, confirming the legal opinion rendered by the FAA. In that letter, Assistant Administrator for Transportation Security Policy Thomas Blank wrote, "it is the position of TSA that federal law impliedly preempts state-imposed aviation security requirements such as MCL § 259.85(24) and that similar legislation being contemplated by other state legislators would likewise be preempted."

The federal government has taken numerous actions to enhance general aviation security&—which include actions to ensure that individuals who pose a threat to our national security do not learn to fly. These actions are:

New TSA/FAA airmen certificate regulation

  • Regulation adopted by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and the Transportation Security Administration on January 24, 2003, that permits the immediate suspension, revocation, or refusal to issue an airmen certificate to anyone that the TSA (an agency of the Department of Homeland Security) has determined poses a threat to transportation security. Using databases "watch list," databases maintained by the CIA, FBI, and other intelligence agencies, the list of licensed pilots is thoroughly reviewed by federal officials to look for persons of interest who may be impacted by this rule issued in January.

Federal foreign national pilot restriction

  • There are current federal restrictions on flight training of foreign nationals, including a requirement for background checks for individuals seeking to receive a U.S. pilot certificate on the basis of a foreign pilot certificate. This measure was put in place in July 2002.

Federal background check for foreign national pilots

  • A federal requirement mandates that U.S. Department of Justice conduct a comprehensive background check for all non-U.S. citizens seeking flight training in larger aircraft weighing more than 12,500 pounds. U.S. Senator Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) has introduced a bill (S.236) that expands that requirement to cover all foreign nationals seeking pilot training regardless of aircraft weight.

Federal pilot identification requirement

  • An FAA requirement, adopted in October 2002, requires a pilot to carry a government-issued photo identification along with their pilot certificate when operating an aircraft.

AOPA Airport Watch Program

  • AOPA has partnered with the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) to develop a nationwide Airport Watch Program that uses the more than 650,000 pilots as eyes and ears for observing and reporting suspicious activity. This helps general aviation keep our airports secure without needless and expensive security requirements. AOPA Airport Watch is supported by a centralized governmentally staffed toll-free hotline (866/GA-SECURE) 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.

TSA Aviation Security Working Group

  • Recently, the TSA formed a working group to help develop appropriate security guidelines for general aviation airports. The working group was formed as a part of the Aviation Security Advisory Committee (ASAC). ASAC was established in 1989 and is a federally recognized committee. The first meeting of the general aviation airports working group was May 21 and included many general aviation industry representatives.

Federal security airspace restrictions—air defense identification zones (ADIZs) temporary flight restrictions (TFRs)

  • Since September 11th, the FAA and government officials have utilized airspace restrictions at various locations across the United States to prohibit or restrict aircraft operations in certain areas when intelligence officials report heightened security sensitivity. These airspace restrictions (ADIZs), such as the ones that have remained in place around New York and Washington, D.C., are patrolled and enforced by U.S. Customs and U.S. military aircraft.

House Bill 4704 will allow Michigan flight schools to review their procedures so that their students and flight instructors are working in concert with federally recognized programs to promote the security of their operation. Such measures will provide an increase in aviation security awareness that will benefit all citizens of Michigan.

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. Flight schools are a key component to the future of our industry. AOPA strongly supports House Bill 4704 and recommends its passage.

In conclusion:

This bill should be passed because:

  • It complements and expands the security actions that have been taken at the federal level.
  • Flight schools will no longer be burdened with the extra work of fingerprinting and background-check record keeping.
  • The state police will no longer be burdened with background checks and fingerprinting of flight students.
  • This bill will provide a greater level of flight school security that is both reasonable and comprehensive and that will protect all citizens of Michigan.

Thank you for the opportunity to testify before your committee today. I will be happy to answer any questions you may have.

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