AOPA President Mark Baker met with Department of Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson June 26 to discuss issues important to general aviation pilots, particularly Customs and Border Protection stops of innocent pilots flying within U.S. borders.
Baker noted that the number of stops appears to have declined, and that CBP Commissioner R. Gil Kerlikowske had initiated a review of the agency’s actions regarding GA aircraft. Baker said that CBP took “swift action” to stop the searches after he met with Kerlikowske but added that AOPA would hold CBP accountable to ensure that future stops are made only in those cases in which there is articulable, reasonable suspicion of criminal activity or probable cause to support a warrantless search.
Baker also told Johnson that while CBP and DHS have worked with AOPA to make cross-border operations easier for general aviation pilots, there still much work to be done. The current border-crossing process is “duplicative” and “doesn’t make good sense,” Baker said. AOPA is working with the governments of Mexico and Canada to get them to accept the information that pilots are submitting through the electronic advance passenger information system. Assistance from CBP and DHS working with their counterparts in the other two governments would help improve cross-border operations.
Equally high in AOPA members’ interest is the ability to navigate airspace within the United States without burdensome procedures established by temporary flight restrictions. Baker explained that TFRs “economically and operationally impact general aviation,” and that he hoped an open dialogue could be established with security agencies to minimize the impact on pilots.
Johnson said that the department is interested in exploring efficient and effective use of taxpayers’ money, and is moving to a risk-based approach for programs. The statement signaled an open door for further dialogue, AOPA believes. Baker reiterated that the association is committed to working with DHS to lessen the burden on general aviation pilots while maintaining national security.
An example of AOPA and the pilot community’s commitment to security is the voluntary Airport Watch program, which has been implemented at thousands of airports nationwide. Airport Watch, modeled after Neighborhood Watch, is a voluntary program in which pilots and aircraft owners “lock up and look out.” Pilots ensure their aircraft are locked and secured, and report any suspicious activity at an airport. Baker informed Johnson that the AOPA-TSA program, which was launched with more than $1.5 million from AOPA, has not received government funding since 2008 and is languishing.
Baker and AOPA’s advocacy staff will continue to work with DHS and other security agencies to ease burdensome regulations on pilots. Baker has wasted no time as AOPA president in taking general aviation issues straight to the top of the agencies that can make a difference—meeting with Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx and multiple times with FAA Administrator Michael Huerta, discussing CBP problems with Kerlikowske that were quickly remedied, and now addressing burdensome security practices with Johnson.