Sunday, October 24, 2004

Screening for Pilot Training Extended to Smaller Planes

Question: Why did it take so long for this to be the case?

The New York Times
October 24, 2004

Screening for Pilot Training Extended to Smaller Planes

WASHINGTON, Oct. 23 (AP) - The federal government has begun conducting background checks on all foreigners seeking to attend American flight schools, the Transportation Security Administration said Friday.

The expanded security measures, aimed in part at preventing potential terrorists from taking pilot lessons here as some of the Sept. 11 hijackers did, now apply to any foreigner seeking flight training in the United States, not just those learning to fly larger aircraft.

Those seeking to attend flight school a second time - for certification to fly a different classification of aircraft, for example - must have their backgrounds checked again.

Previously, only those training on aircraft weighing 12,500 pounds or more had their backgrounds checked.

"Fortifying security by knowing who trains at these schools is an integral part of our mission to secure the homeland," said the Transportation Security Administration's chief, Rear Adm. David M. Stone, an assistant secretary of homeland security, whose agency expanded the pool to include smaller aircraft on Wednesday.

The new rules follow the agency's takeover of the program from the Justice Department on Oct. 5. All foreign applicants, including certified pilots, will have to undergo agency checks starting Dec. 19.

The Justice Department has said 30,000 foreigners applied to American flight schools last year.

Under the Justice Department program, they were required to provide fingerprints and passport and visa information and to list the type of training sought. Since the Transportation Security Agency took over, applicants have had to submit another set of fingerprints.

The terrorism suspect Zacarias Moussaoui, who is accused of participating in the Qaeda Sept. 11 plot, was arrested a month before the attacks when he aroused suspicions at a flight school. One of the hijackers rented small aircraft several times in the summer before the attacks for practice flights.

The new security checks do not apply to foreign students already in training or enrolled in flight schools, though they are required for pilots training for another level or type of aircraft.

That has raised financial concerns for American schools training pilots for foreign airlines, said Steven Daun, director of career training at Aeroservice Aviation Center in Virginia Gardens, Fla.

"We understand the need for national security, but you can't penalize the people who have already been cleared as not being a threat," he said.