San Diego Will Run Federal Background Checks on All Foreign Aviation Students

By Michael Klazema on 2/18/2014

A new law that will enforce strict federal background checks for foreign aviation students has earned unanimous approval from county supervisors in San Diego. Numerous students receive flying lessons at local airports on a regular basis, and going forward, student pilots that hail from foreign countries will be subject to federal background screenings prior to flying planes in training procedures of any sort. The local law is an extension of a federal mandate that has, since the September 11th attacks, required foreign pilots learning to fly planes on United States soil to undergo thorough background investigations

In fact, it appears that the federal law involving foreign trainee pilot background screenings should have been being enforced in San Diego and elsewhere for some time now. The law mandates that any student pilots who are not citizens be subject to different treatment than trainees with United States citizenship. What sort of background checks United States pilots-to-be are required to complete, if any, is not clear.

What is clear is that the federal laws involving background screenings of pilots in training have been largely ignored since their inception. In 2012, the Government Accounting Office published a report on the pilot background check system, noting that there were "concerning gaps" in the system, and that plenty of aviation schools were still not running background checks of non-citizen students. That news was especially resonant to county supervisors in San Diego, where - according to local publication East County Magazine - 14 private flight schools are based, where 1,200 flight instructors work public airports, and where "at least two of the 9/11 hijackers" lived prior to the attacks.

San Diego county officials were so concerned about the pilot background check oversights that they began drafting an ordinance to correct the issue back in 2012 - around the 11th anniversary of the September 11th tragedies. The ordinance, which was just passed recently, will require aviation schools and flight instructors from around San Diego County to run background checks on all foreign, non-citizen students. Of course, county officials will not be looking over the shoulders of flight instructors to make sure that the background checks are actually happening. However, each school will required to sign forms swearing compliance with the federal government's aviation training laws. In other words, the ordinance is just a measure to remind aviation educators about rules regarding the training of foreign pilots.

The ordinance - and the government legislation it enforces- could be doubly effective if they were expanded to include citizen aviators as well. A background check process looking for criminal history and scanning terrorist watch lists - both screening services offered by - would be a way to improve the safety and security of aviation education. After all, the threats could come from anywhere and could involve citizens and non-citizens alike.


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