Airpark advisory committee advises against flight school ordinance

In September 2012, the San Diego County Board of Supervisors directed the county’s chief administrative officer to work with county counsel on an ordinance which would require flight schools and independent flight instructors at county airports to comply with all foreign flight student screening, vetting, and monitoring requirements. County airports program coordinator Roger Griffiths presented the proposed ordinance to the Fallbrook Airpark Advisory Committee at the FAAC’s Nov. 4, 2013, meeting, whereupon the FAAC voted 4-0 (the resignation of Jeff Holstein from the advisory committee in October created a vacancy) against recommending such an ordinance.

“It was a feel-good, do-nothing ordinance. It was absolutely pointless on its enforcement,” said FAAC chairman David Duffer. “All it does is create more paperwork.”

On Sept. 11, 2012, the Board of Supervisors endorsed House Resolution 6159, which would require all persons seeking flight training to be checked against the terrorist watch list before they receive flight training, while adding to the county’s legislative program support for Federal legislation which would address weaknesses noted in a July 2012 U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) report acknowledging that foreign nationals who pose a security risk could receive flight training in the United States due to loopholes in the Federal government’s vetting process of foreign pilots.

The county supervisors also directed the chief administrative officer to work with county counsel on an ordinance which would require flight schools which lease or sublease aviation property and independent flight instructors at county airports to comply with all foreign flight student screening and vetting requirements including the Alien Flight Student Program and the Student and Exchange Visitors Program.

“There are several clearances that the flight schools already have to get from the Department of Homeland Security,” Duffer said. “It was just pointless paperwork.”

Duffer noted that suspicious actions had been reported about all of the September 2011 terrorists prior to their attacks. “The Federal government had been informed about their activities,” he said. “The flight schools are already reporting anything they see that’s suspicious.”

Two of the September 2011 terrorists lived and worked in San Diego but were denied the ability to attend a local flight school. Other terrorists trained intermittently at multiple flight schools in Arizona, Florida, New Jersey, and Oklahoma. Three terrorists received training in Hamburg, Germany, before attending flight schools in the United States.

When students who are not United States citizens apply for a Federal Aviation Administration pilot’s license, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) routes the information through its Alien Flight Student Program. The GAO report found that some foreign students did not match those in the TSA data base.

The Alien Flight Student Program is not designed to cross-check information with the Department of Homeland Security, so it is possible that a student who is in the United States illegally could be approved for flight training or a pilot’s license. The GAO report also cited a TSA policy which authorizes applicants for flight training regardless of their visa status.

“The county’s going to do the job for the federal government? That doesn’t make sense to me,” Duffer said.

Duffer noted that a county policy would apply only to the eight airports owned and operated by the county and not to Brown Field or Montgomery Field, which are owned and operated by the City of San Diego, or to Oceanside Municipal Airport, which is a City of Oceanside entity. “It just puts the San Diego County flight schools at kind of a little disadvantage,” he said.

Fallbrook Community Airpark currently has two flight schools, both of which are also involved in other aspects of aircraft operation.

“This was just an additional burden,” Duffer said. “We just felt that it wasn’t worth our endorsement.”

Griffiths shared information about the need for flight schools and instructors who train foreign students to attend periodic training on Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and TSA requirements. The county plans to share ICE and TSA training information with airport users on a routine basis.

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