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Proposal: Monitoring Foreign Flight Students In San Diego

City News Service

Evening Edition

Aired 2/3/14 on KPBS Midday Edition.


Garry Bardack, flight instructor, pilot, member of the Gillespie Field Development Council

Ed Blitz, steering committee, Advocates for Safe Airport Policies (ASAP)

Following the 9/11 terrorist attacks San Diegans learned that two of the al Qaeda hijackers took flight lessons at Montgomery Field. Khalid Al-Mihdhar and Nawaf Al-Hazmi lived for almost two years in San Diego, where they also took flight lessons.

Nearly 13 years later, an ordinance pushing for new restrictions on county flight schools where foreigners are taught to fly goes before the county Board of Supervisors.

Supervisor Dianne Jacob proposed closer monitoring of flight schools based on a U.S. General Accounting Office report that concluded the federal government did not adequately monitor foreign flight students in this country.

If approved the ordinance would require flight schools and independent instructors using county-run airports to certify that they're following guidelines for screening and monitoring students.

Part of the idea is to increase contacts between county staffers and flight school operators. Violations of the ordinance could result in warnings, citations or schools being denied the use of airports.

The GAO report found that foreign nationals were applying for flight certificates with the Federal Aviation Administration without being properly vetted, and there was little coordination between the Transportation Security Administration and immigration officials.

A staff report says the proposed ordinance seeks to confirm that flight schools and instructors are following the law, in a way in which the county doesn't undermine federal authority.

Advisory committees at three of the eight affected airfields — the Fallbrook Airpark, Gillespie Field in El Cajon, and McClellan-Palomar Airport — each voted unanimously against Jacob's proposal at meetings in November.

In September 2012, when the proposal was introduced, there were 11 flight schools operating at county-run airports.

If passed next Wednesday, the item would return Feb. 26 for final approval.


GAO Report: 'Weaknesses Exist In TSA’s Process For Ensuring Foreign Flight Students Do Not Pose a Security Threat"

GAO Report: 'Weaknesses Exist In TSA’s Process For Ensuring Foreign Flight Students Do Not Pose a Security Threat"

This July 2012 GAO report points out weaknesses in the federal government's oversight of oversight of foreign flight students.

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Avatar for user 'dpeyre'

dpeyre | February 3, 2014 at 12:03 p.m. ― 3 years, 1 month ago

The notion that county regulations can address this is, to be blunt, dumb. There are over 3000 counties and 100,000 flight instructors in the US. If the county Board of Supervisors wants to do something useful on this issue, they can pass a resolution calling upon our Senators and Representatives to address the issue through appropriate Federal means. And the #1 option, in this regard, would be to call upon the Chair of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform to address this substantive issue. Anything else is a waste of Board and county staff time.

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Avatar for user 'kglaze'

kglaze | February 3, 2014 at 12:29 p.m. ― 3 years, 1 month ago

To me, this sounds like another attempt by the neighbors of Gillespie Field to get the airport closed. Mr. Blitz spent more time complaining about the airplanes flying over his house than any actual threat caused by the flight schools, which seems to suggest his real motive. I can only hope the supervisors see that this so-called "solution" is really a ploy that uses our fear of terrorists as a way to create unnecessary regulations whose only purpose is to incrementally close the airport.

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Avatar for user 'benz72'

benz72 | February 3, 2014 at 12:54 p.m. ― 3 years, 1 month ago

It seemed like the two interviewees were talking past each other, even with moderator help. Wasn't a copy of the proposed rule text available for review? It either does or does not list those items as requirements... check it and move on please.

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Avatar for user 'bchafetz'

bchafetz | February 3, 2014 at 2:35 p.m. ― 3 years, 1 month ago

Congress is dragging its feet on the vetting of foreign flight school students. I support Supervisor Jacob’s attempt to add a layer of oversight at the local level by increasing contacts between county airport operators and flight school operators catering to non-international students. What are the flight school operators afraid of?

There are serious security issues here. Let’s not forget that the 9/11 high jackers trained at Montgomery field, a flight school operating in the county was closed down in the past for not vetting foreign flight students properly and county airports are very close to large U.S. military installations; Miramar Marine Air Station and North Island Naval Air Station and Camp Pendleton to name a few. Non-Nato flight school students should be nowhere near these places or our precious water reservoirs like Lake Jennings which they fly over routinely.

I applaud the Supervisor Jacob’s action. More local leaders across the country need to show some courage and follow her lead.

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Avatar for user 'bchafetz'

bchafetz | February 3, 2014 at 3:09 p.m. ― 3 years, 1 month ago

The term non-international students in the first paragraph, third line of my post should read NON-NATO international students. Please excuse the typo.

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Avatar for user 'Peking_Duck_SD'

Peking_Duck_SD | February 3, 2014 at 5:08 p.m. ― 3 years, 1 month ago

I listened to this on the noon-time program, and honestly did not hear one valid reason for this added layer.

So it adds a county Bureaucrat to check paperwork that is already mandated by another government entity?

We shouldn't just be creating laws and regulations because they sound pretty, we should be doing it because they are actually sound law.

I found it interesting that the guest in favor of this said repeatedly, "It won't cost anything".

So these county Bureaucrats are going to work for free?? FAT chance.

I also gleamed something else from this, which I find very disturbing as it's a tactic political hacks use all the time: They write a law giving them very broad authority then go around saying, "oh no, we won’t use it like that - this itsy-bit is all we are planning on doing".

That doesn't "fly" (pun intended).

The law should be written as narrowly as the people in favor of it claim it will be used and no more.

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Avatar for user 'RobertGermann'

RobertGermann | February 3, 2014 at 6:14 p.m. ― 3 years, 1 month ago

It is pretty obvious that all the schools that Mr Barback are representing are concerned about is the bottom line, "MONEY" Security, safety, costs money. "Freedom is not Free". Mr. Bardack has obviously forgotten 9/11. Supervisor Jacobs will not take kindly to being threatened with a law suit. I support this ordnance. Does the Gillespie Pilots Assc. support this ordnance?

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Avatar for user 'Suebob'

Suebob | February 3, 2014 at 6:58 p.m. ― 3 years, 1 month ago

Did Mr Bardack suggest that if this was passed there would be legal action? They're going to file a lawsuit over background checks for foreign flight students in SD county? Really!
Why don't these people train in their own countries? Because there are too many fees? Why does the US make it so cheap to fly fully leaded gas guzzlers over our communities? Let them fly in their own countries! If their countries don't want to allow this neither do we! Think about it people!
All these anti regulation people diminish our own quality of life!

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Avatar for user 'Peking_Duck_SD'

Peking_Duck_SD | February 3, 2014 at 11:14 p.m. ― 3 years, 1 month ago

I agree that flying leaded planes over and over again over populated communities is a problem.

But that has nothing to do with the proposed ordinance which is basically just a "feel good" law that does nothing but allows the county bosses to claim they are preventing terrorist attacks by having a powerless mid-level bureaucrat from the county walk through the schools with a clipboard.

If Jacobs really wanted to address her constituents concerns, perhaps she could actually focus efforts on relocating training centers to less populated areas instead of trying to capitalize on back county xenophobia.

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Avatar for user 'Suebob'

Suebob | February 4, 2014 at 8:15 a.m. ― 3 years, 1 month ago

This has nothing to do with xenophobia. This has to do with quality of life in the US.
Why does the US allow here what most other countries do not want in their own countries? They charge all these fees because flight schools are a polluting, dangerous nuisance.
Unfortunately the US has all these damn anti regulation groups. Hence, chemical spills in our drinking waters, lead in our air, good jobs going overseas, banks and big money interests ripping us off, on and on and on...
It all adds up to a general diminishment in our quality of life. :-(

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Avatar for user 'Suebob'

Suebob | February 4, 2014 at 8:30 a.m. ― 3 years, 1 month ago

Oh! Here's a surprise! Another private plane crash, this time in Tennessee. 4 people on board killed and plane landing next to a crowded YMCA!

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Avatar for user 'thompsonrichard'

thompsonrichard | February 4, 2014 at 9:52 a.m. ― 3 years, 1 month ago

The PSA crash over North Park in September 1978 killed 144 people. David Boswell, a 35-year-old U.S. Marine Corps sergeant, possessed single-engine and multi-engine ratings and a commercial certificate and was at the time of the accident practicing ILS approaches under the instruction of a well-qualified pilot-teacher in pursuit of his instrument rating. They had departed from Montgomery Field, and were navigating under VFR, which did not require the filing of a flight plan. Boswell was wearing a "hood" to limit his field of vision straight ahead to the cockpit panel, much like an oversize sun visor with vertical panels to block peripheral vision, as is normal in IFR training.

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Avatar for user 'thompsonrichard'

thompsonrichard | February 4, 2014 at 10:29 a.m. ― 3 years, 1 month ago

The list of military pilots trained at North Island early in 1911 by aviation pioneer Glenn Curtis included a Japanese Naval Cadet, last name Yamada, who would later become infamous as the head of Japan’s Naval aviation in World War II.

The largest growth of the Naval Air Center San Diego took place in 1943 as the training command and aircraft manufacturers reached full production. The tower at San Diego logged an average of 1400 to 1800 takeoffs per day for a wartime total of 1,203,032 takeoffs and 1,196,837 landings. A total of 30,269 air craft were ferried to/from the station and 13,891 loaded on ships; 2538 aircraft were present on VJ-Day. An estimated 350,000 men received training on the station.

By the end of the war, San Diego also had four aircraft carrier piers, 20 hangars, and one of the largest Assembly and Repair Departments in the Navy.

Following WW II, San Diego maintained its prominent role in Naval aviation.
In 1996, North Island was home to 23 squadrons and 50 other commands.
NAS, San Diego had the following outlying fields during World War II:
Booming Field, 2.5 miles southeast of Coyote Wells
Border Airport, 12.5 miles southeast of San Diego
Borego Hotel Field, 34 miles northwest of Brawley
Clark's Dry Lake, 65 miles northeast of San Diego at the west end of the lake.
Coyote Wells North Field, 13 miles northeast of Coyote Wells
Coyote Wells South Field, 3 miles east of Coyote Wells
Jacumba Hot Springs Airport, 1 mile east of Jacumba Hot Springs
Rosedale Airport, 6 miles north of San Diego
An Air Field on the north end of San Nicholas Island, 90 miles southwest of Los Angeles

I listened to Supervisor Jacobs State of the County last week. Her top priority was Parkinson's disease.

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Avatar for user 'Peking_Duck_SD'

Peking_Duck_SD | February 4, 2014 at 10:36 a.m. ― 3 years, 1 month ago

Suebob, I'm not arguing with your points. I agree totally about the U.S.'s poor environmental regulations and the powerful lobbyists who work for polluting companies.

My argument is what does THIS ordinance have to do with any of that??

This is simply an ordinance saying someone is going to come in and check paperwork tht the Feds are responsible for. I don't know why you are so confident that county bureaucrats will do a better job than the FAA. Two government agencies in a chest thumping competition at flight schools, and THAT'S supposed to preven terrorism?

It's just going to create chaos.

This is poorly written and I think it is a publicity stunt by the county to capitalize on Islamaphobia and Xenophobia.

And by the way, all the environmental issues you raise occur regardless of whether it's a foreigner or a us citizen flying the plane.

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Avatar for user 'RobertGermann'

RobertGermann | February 4, 2014 at 3:41 p.m. ― 3 years, 1 month ago

The FAA is responsible for air safety and efficiency. The FAA has nothing to do with this ordnance. There is only one agency that this ordnance SUPPORTS is the TSA. Ever heard of teamwork. Ist line is Federal level (TSA) 2nd line is the local. Pretty much like any security concern. I don't know what the big deal is, a professional truck driver goes in to get his license, he has to show his current medical card to operate his truck. Nobody knew there was a problem until the General Accounting Office discovered it after some plane crashes involving foreign cadets and then also a Crt case# 10CR1886 MMA filed May 18 2010. filed in United States District Court, Southern Dist. It might explain to you how these flight schools operate. I would recommend you watch the Board of Supervisors tomorrow regarding this issue. Have fun. The environment is a whole another issue on these planes, especially Gillespie being in a Valley and surrounded by 4 freeways.,8,67,52.and 125.

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Avatar for user 'Peking_Duck_SD'

Peking_Duck_SD | February 5, 2014 at midnight ― 3 years, 1 month ago

"There is only one agency that this ordnance SUPPORTS is the TSA. Ever heard of teamwork."

Does the TSA support this ordinance?

I seriously doubt a county bureaucrat trying to oversee the work of a Federal Agency will result in "teamwork".

Government agencies are notoriously territorial and the whole premise of this implies the Feds aren't doing their job so the county is going to step in.

It will work about as good as Arizona's failed attempt to step-in on immigration because they didn't think the Feds were doing enough.

The county is setting us up for costly lawsuits they are certain to lose - something they have done in the past.

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Avatar for user 'casualobserver'

casualobserver | February 5, 2014 at 8:46 p.m. ― 3 years, 1 month ago

So let me understand this. It's been more or less 13 years since the terrorists took flight training. Haven't had any other incidents since 2001 involving foreign zealots taking flight training in the US and then crashing planes into...anything. So now we need to be all afraid again and do more monitoring of what is already being monitored because...why?
Time to give a pacifier and blankie to all you scared children masquerading as adults and send you to bed while the grownups deal with reality.

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