Proposal: Monitoring Foreign Flight Students In San Diego
City News Service
Monday, February 3, 2014
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"
This July 2012 GAO report points out weaknesses in the federal government's oversight of oversight of foreign flight students.