AOPA President Phil Boyer has gone straight to the top to stop implementation of the Transportation Security Administration's "alien" flight-training rule.
"In my almost three years of working with TSA, I have never seen such an impractical idea," Boyer told TSA chief Adm. David Stone Thursday morning. "I implore you to delay implementation of this rule to give us the opportunity to work with you to bring sanity to it and help you accomplish your security goals."
The phone call prompted an unscheduled meeting between AOPA Senior Vice President of Government and Technical Affairs Andy Cebula, AOPA General Counsel John Yodice, and senior TSA policy officials.
AOPA has already filed a formal petition to suspend the October compliance date for training in aircraft weighing 12,500 pounds or less (see " AOPA petitions to suspend parts of TSA alien training rule"), while Yodice has submitted a five-page letter to TSA's chief counsel seeking clarification and explanations and justifications for the rule's specifics.
"Frankly, I don't believe that TSA understands the flight training industry for small general aviation aircraft, and particularly independent, freelance flight instructors," said Boyer. "What might work for training in aircraft over 12,500 pounds doesn't work for the majority of the GA fleet. One size doesn't fit all."
The rule directly affects more than 650,000 U.S.-certificated pilots, 85,000 resident aliens with U.S. pilot certificates, 93,700 flight students, 88,700 flight instructors, and some 3,400 flight schools.
As currently written, the rule requires every student and certificated pilot to prove his or her citizenship status prior to taking any kind of flight training, including flight reviews. Flight instructors are required to keep copies of pilots' personal information (which could include social security cards, birth certificates, or passports) for five years.
"Many pilots consider this an insult. Our members are incensed about the privacy aspects of this rule," said Boyer. "Many have told us that requiring flight instructors to maintain permanent files filled with personal pilot information is not only inappropriate, it would have a chilling effect on people seeking flight training.
In his conversation with Stone, Boyer explained that many flight instructors pass through the industry quickly as they move on to other flying jobs. These instructors don't have offices or the resources to securely maintain the kinds of files TSA is now demanding.
Boyer also pointed out that the majority of flight schools in the United States operate under Part 61, without the necessity for certification.
"Attempting to take what the Department of Justice did with the few Part 141 schools that were training foreign nationals in large aircraft and applying it across the board just will not work," said Boyer. (Currently the Department of Justice does security screening on foreigners who apply for training in the United States in aircraft weighing more than 12,500 pounds.)
TSA published its interim final rule "Flight Training for Aliens and Other Designated Individuals" September 20 without the usual public review and comment (see " AOPA raises concerns over TSA alien flight training rule"). TSA said it was responding to a congressional mandate to check for terrorists among foreign nationals applying for flight training in the United States. TSA also said that the deadline imposed by Congress to institute such a check for students training in aircraft weighing less than 12,500 pounds meant the agency had to issue the rule without the normal public review process.
"TSA went far beyond what Congress intended in Section 612 of 'Vision 100,' the FAA reauthorization act, as it applies to training in smaller aircraft," said Boyer. "And they missed their deadline by seven months. If they can push their deadline that far, they can certainly take additional time to consult with the industry and get a rule that is sound from a regulatory standpoint, meets congressional intent, and protects the rights of all pilots living in the United States.
"AOPA supports the mission of improved security, but there are much better ways to get there than this TSA rule," Boyer said.
September 30, 2004