Update: President Bush on Friday signed into law the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act implementing many of the recommendations of the 9/11 commission.
Buried within the 563-page bill is a provision requiring the FAA to start issuing improved pilot certificates within a year. The pilot certificates must be resistant to tampering and counterfeiting, include a photo of the pilot, and might also include a biometric identifier such as a fingerprint or retina scan.
"We worked closely with key members of Congress to make sure that these new requirements don't impose an undue burden on GA pilots," said AOPA President Phil Boyer. "Adding a pilot's picture to the license has been debated for a long time, we wanted to make sure pilots don't have to travel long distances to make this happen."
Thanks to AOPA's advocacy, the bill allows the FAA to use designees to process the new certificates "to the extent feasible in order to minimize the burdens on pilots."
"The allowance for designees means that an aviation medical examiner could take a digital photo of the pilot as part of the exam and transmit the photo to the FAA along with the medical data," said Andy Cebula, AOPA senior vice president of Government and Technical Affairs. AMEs already send exam results to the FAA electronically. (See " Senate passes bill that includes photo pilot certificates.") "Senators Jay Rockefeller of West Virginia and Pat Roberts of Kansas were willing to listen to AOPA about the realities of general aviation and modify the legislation to increase national security while minimizing the impact on pilots," Cebula added.
The bill does not require pilots to immediately replace existing certificates with new photo certificates. Pilots would likely get a photo certificate when they add a new rating or certificate.
AOPA also successfully lobbied against a requirement that renter pilots be screened against a terrorist watch list.
"Cross-checking pilot lists against terrorist watch lists may have some benefit," said Cebula, "but the government simply does not have the system in place to reliably, accurately, and efficiently vet the pilots before they rent an aircraft.
"Congress accepted our argument that such a provision would have placed a huge burden on pilots and FBOs without any significant security improvement."
Congress had also considered at one point mandating a security check of every passenger in a general aviation aircraft. AOPA pointed out that, unlike on a commercial aircraft, GA pilots know the people in the airplane.
Congress decided that if the Department of Homeland Security develops an "advanced passenger prescreening function" it could be applied to people flying in chartered aircraft weighing more than 12,500 pounds. Anyone trying to lease a large aircraft could also be subject to the screening process.
The bill also directs the Department of Homeland Security to establish a fair appeals process so that anyone placed on the terrorist watch list can contest the information.
The bill is considered the most sweeping reform of the U.S. intelligence apparatus since the creation of the Central Intelligence Agency in 1947. In addition to creating a director of national intelligence with authority over 15 intelligence agencies, the bill contains numerous provisions affecting transportation, primarily commercial airline travel.
Update: December 17, 2004