October 8, 2014
Contact: Steve Hedges
AOPA remains committed to protecting pilot rights
FREDERICK, Md. – A promised top-down review of general aviation (GA) enforcement practices by Customs and Border Protection’s (CBP’s) Office of Air and Marine shows that the agency has heard GA concerns, but the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA) will remain vigilant to ensure the rights and freedoms of pilots are respected, the association said Wednesday.
The review, dated Oct. 1, cites “opportunities for improvement” and notes that changes have been implemented to increase accountability, improve training and use CBP personnel – rather than local law enforcement – for stops of GA aircraft. The report also promises that Air and Marine Division is taking steps to improve communication with the GA community.
“We’re pleased that CBP’s Air and Marine Division has acknowledged our concerns and recognized the need for change,” said AOPA President Mark Baker. “It is encouraging that they are implementing programs to help ensure agency accountability, improve training, and enhance communication with the general aviation community.
“Recently, we haven’t seen any more of the egregious, unwarranted stops our members had been reporting, and that’s good news. But we will remain vigilant to ensure that the rights of law- abiding pilots are respected.”
Baker met with CBP Commissioner Gil Kerlikowske earlier this year to object to the unwarranted stops of GA aircraft. Several members of Congress also expressed concern. Kerlikowske promised to deliver a top-down review of GA enforcement procedures when he was questioned during his confirmation hearing earlier this year.
“We appreciate the leadership of Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kansas) and Rep. Sam Graves (R-Missouri) on this issue,” Baker added. “They listened to the concerns of the GA community and helped shine a light on questionable practices, paving the way for better relationships between pilots, CBP, and other law enforcement organizations.”
The 27-page report notes that the Office of Air and Marine has implemented a tracking system that requires officers to log all contacts with general aviation pilots in order to reduce the likelihood of repeat unwarranted encounters. But while this system may provide increased accountability within CBP, the records are not subject to Freedom of Information Act requests and cannot be reviewed by the public.
The report also notes that the agency has also made changes to increase the use of CBP officers to make general aviation stops, rather than depending on local law enforcement officers who may not have training or experience with general aviation.
And the report indicates that the Office of Air and Marine has improved training, with more scenario-based training and reduced focus on worst-case situations. While AOPA previously urged the Office of Air and Marine to update its training materials, which were riddled with errors and inaccuracies, aviation stakeholders have not had the opportunity to review the new materials to ensure their accuracy.
“We’re glad the Office of Air and Marine has chosen to offer new training situations and materials, but we have no way of knowing if the new materials are factually correct and accurately reflect the realities of general aviation flying,” said Baker. “We look forward to continuing dialogue with CBP and the Office of Air and Marine on this and other issues.”
Since 1939, AOPA has protected the freedom to fly for thousands of pilots, aircraft owners and aviation enthusiasts. AOPA is the world’s largest aviation member association, with representatives based in Frederick, Md., Washington, D.C., and seven regions across the United States. AOPA provides member services that range from advocacy at the federal, state, and local levels to legal services, flight planning products, safety programs and award-winning media. To learn more, visit www.aopa.org.
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