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San Diego Supervisors Tighten Regulations On Flight Schools That Train Foreigners

Credit: AmysFr / Flickr

View of the cockpit of an Airbus A320.

The Board of Supervisors on Wednesday adopted regulations requiring flight schools and independent instructors that teach foreign flight students and operate at San Diego County airports to annually certify compliance with federal screening and vetting procedures.

Operators who lease or sublease county property will now be required to sign a statement each fiscal year stating that guidelines for screening and monitoring foreign flight students are being followed to the best of their knowledge.

Violations of the ordinance could result in warnings, citations or schools being denied the use of county airports.

Special Feature Hijackers Lived 'Very Openly' In San Diego

9/11 hijackers Khalid Al-Mihdhar and Nawaf Al-Hazmi lived for almost two years in San Diego, where they also took flight lessons.

The ordinance was based on a 2012 U.S. General Accounting Office report that concluded the federal government did not adequately monitor foreign flight students' that foreign nationals were applying for flight certificates with the Federal Aviation Administration without being properly vetted; and that there was little coordination between the Transportation Security Administration and immigration officials.

The first two 9/11 hijackers to arrive in the United States -- Khalid al-Mihdhar and Nawaf al-Hazmi -- settled in San Diego in January 2000 and took flight lessons at Montgomery Field, and hijacker-pilot Hani Hanjour arrived in December of that year.

"Almost 13 years ago was 9/11-- almost 13 years ago, and still, as we sit here today, the problems that were raised in the GAO report are not resolved," Chairwoman Dianne Jacob said.

The county ordinance will require flight schools and instructors to confirm they are following the law, but does not undermine federal authority. The county's Department of Public Works will also work to encourage instructors who train non-U.S. citizens to get TSA and U.S. Customs Immigration Enforcement training on federal requirements for foreign flight students.

Supervisor Greg Cox said he was not interested in creating "onerous regulations."

"I think the county has an obligation to make sure that people who are running these schools are in compliance with federal regulations," Cox said.

The ordinance was passed despite opposition from several members of the aviation community.

Tom Hannawa, owner of American Aviation Academy at Gillespie Field, said the ordinance would not be enforced equally for schools known to county staff and independent operators, who are required to self-report.

"If I'm a truly concerned citizen about aviation security, relying on the integrity of individuals to self-report would not comfort me," Hannawa said.

Advisory committees at three of the eight affected airfields -- the Fallbrook Airpark, Gillespie Field and McClellan-Palomar Airport -- each voted unanimously against the ordinance at meetings in November.

Barry Bardack of the Gillespie Field Development Council said the ordinance does not add security, but instead discourages flight schools at county-run airports.

"Targeting flight schools is unwarranted," Bardack said. "Any concerns about federal procedures must be and should be addressed at the federal level."

Staffers will review the ordinance after a year, and will step up advocacy at the federal level.

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Avatar for user 'Peking_Duck_SD'

Peking_Duck_SD | February 26, 2014 at 4:31 p.m. ― 3 years, 1 month ago

I feel as though KPBS is playing right into the county's propaganda with mug shots of 9-11 hijackers and the whole dog and pony hysteria show.

The implication that these regulations could have stopped the hijackers, or stop future ones is absurd.

This is a redundant government body (County Board of Supervisors, should be dissolved) who are trying to make themselves relevant by deciding they will pay people to go in and check to make sure the Federal agency with direct responsibility over this has their paperwork in order.

It's a classic piece of do-nothing regulation designed to allow certain politicians and their hacks the ability to get more political mileage out of 9-11.


Seriously, we don't need a county board of supervisors. Do what SF did and just make the city its own county in essence and absorb the very little the county does for the city of SD into the city council, get rid of the overpaid underworked corrupt body of inept crooks.

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