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TSA finalizes Flight Training Security Program

The Transportation Security Administration published on May 1 a final rule that codifies, with adjustments, procedures in place for decades to scrutinize foreign flight students.

Photo by Mike Fizer.

Rooted in the federal response to the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, the new regulation becomes, in effect, a coda to the story of 9/11 and general aviation. Hijackers trained at flight schools in the United States, part of a monthslong covert operation to infiltrate aviation and weaponize airliners. In 2004, TSA (an agency created as part of the federal response to 9/11) established screening requirements for foreign nationals seeking flight training and required security awareness staff for flight training providers.

AOPA represented GA pilots in face-to-face contact with the leadership of the FAA and other government agencies, dispatching staff to FAA headquarters while the attacks were still underway. In the months and years that followed, AOPA continued this work, seeking to serve the security needs of the nation while preserving the freedom to fly. That work included the effort to make flight training more secure. In 2018, AOPA worked with TSA officials to update the interim rule establishing what was then known as the Alien Flight Student Program, welcoming revisions and a new round of public comment on what was then still an interim rule.

The final rule published May 1 makes the program permanent, incorporating changes made to it in recent years, including the name: Flight Training Security Program (FTSP). It refines the process that sees every foreign flight training student assessed by the federal government to determine if they pose a security threat. The new regulation takes effect July 30 and includes a number of changes that AOPA sought. Flight training providers will (still) be required to complete the same initial security awareness training before training foreign nationals, now to be followed by an updated refresher course every two years, rather than annually.

The final rule also provides for electronic filing of required documentation through the FTSP portal, and other recommendations from the Aviation Security Advisory Committee, of which AOPA is a member. As requested, the Security Threat Assessment (STA) will be time-based, rather than based on initiation of various training events, with approvals good for five years. The rule also creates a Security Coordinator position to be designated by each flight training provider who will liaison with TSA. For student pilots, the application fee for the FTSP will increase from $130 to $140, though individuals with certain security qualifications (such as TSA Global Entry) will qualify for a lower fee.

“Where possible, TSA is modifying the program to make it more effective and less burdensome,” the agency wrote in the final rule.

AOPA Director of Airspace, Air Traffic, and Security Jim McClay said the long-awaited, 160-page final rule is under review, and AOPA will update online guidance for flight training providers and prospective students, along with the AOPA-provided General Aviation TSA Security Awareness course and the Electronic Flight Instructor Refresher Course.

The final rule also clarifies that “flight training providers” includes not only instructors and schools, but also “any lessor of aircraft or flight simulators for flight training,” though it does not necessarily require the owner of a simulator to comply with the regulation's recordkeeping or other requirements in cases where the owner of the aircraft or simulator is not directly involved in training students:

“In most lease situations, the lessee of the simulator or other equipment is a certificated flight training provider. In situations where the lessee of the equipment is not registered with TSA as a flight training provider, however, the lessor is considered the flight training provider for purposes of assuming reporting and recordkeeping responsibilities. For example, a foreign government may bring its own instructors and candidates to the United States for flight training on leased equipment, but TSA cannot require a foreign government to register as a flight training provider.”

For flight training providers, the requirement to verify a federal determination of eligibility for foreign nationals seeking flight training will remain unchanged:

“Flight training providers must notify TSA of all training events for candidates and must validate that the candidate has a current Determination of Eligibility before providing training,” the agency wrote in the final rule. “All flight training providers also must designate a Security Coordinator, provide security awareness training to their employees, and maintain records to demonstrate compliance with this part.”

Jim Moore
Jim Moore
Managing Editor-Digital Media
Digital Media Managing Editor Jim Moore joined AOPA in 2011 and is an instrument-rated private pilot, as well as a certificated remote pilot, who enjoys competition aerobatics and flying drones.
Topics: Advocacy, Flight School, Student

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