TSA delays alien flight training rule

 - January 31, 2007, 6:56 AM

Shortly after AIN went to press for last month’s issue, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) made last-minute modifications to its alien flight-training rule, which was scheduled for implementation on October 20. Among other provisions, the interim final rule transferred responsibility for background checks from the Department of Justice to the Department of Homeland Security and the TSA.

General aviation interests had asked for a blanket delay of the start date, but the TSA refused. (See AIN, November, page 128.) It did, however, grant a 60-day delay only to those aliens who currently hold an airman’s certificate from the FAA, or from a foreign national authority that the FAA recognizes, and who are receiving training in aircraft weighing 12,500 pounds or less. That compliance date is now set for December 19.

As currently written, the rule requires every person to prove citizenship before undertaking flight training for the issuance of a new certificate or rating or the addition of a certificate or rating in an aircraft weighing 12,500 pounds or less. Additionally, foreign flight students must complete a background check process with the TSA.

The TSA defines flight training as instruction received from a flight school or individual certified flight instructor in an aircraft or aircraft simulator that could be used toward a new certificate or rating. The TSA believes that the requirements of the interim rule should be limited to this type of training because it allows individuals without any training to learn how to operate an aircraft, and allows pilots who already have the skills to operate an aircraft to gain new operating skills, such as upgrading from a single-engine aircraft to a multi-engine aircraft.

Recurrent training is defined as periodic training required under certain sections of the FARs but does not include any flight review, proficiency check or other check whose purpose is to review rules, maneuvers or procedures or to demonstrate a pilot’s existing skills on aircraft with an mtow of 12,500 pounds or less. The TSA believes these checks do not constitute either flight training or recurrent training within the meaning of the rule because in practice, the primary purpose of these checks is to allow pilots to demonstrate their skills, not gain new skills.

Under the rule, a flight school or CFI is required to maintain a copy of documentation establishing that a flight student is a U.S. citizen or national for five years. However, the TSA is granting an exemption for flight schools or CFIs that provide flight training on any size aircraft, provided they (1) continue to determine whether a flight student is a U.S. citizen or national before providing flight training to the student, and (2) make an endorsement in both the instructor’s logbook, or other record used by the instructor to record flight student endorsements, and the student’s logbook.

In addition, the rule prohibits flight schools and individual instructors from providing flight training in the operation of an aircraft with an mtow of 12,500 pounds or less to an alien unless the TSA has been notified that the alien has requested such training.

After receiving comments from flight schools and trade associations representing flight schools, general aviation and air carriers, the TSA granted the exemption to give providers of flight instruction additional time to prepare to comply with the interim rule by reducing the number of people subject to the rule, while immediately addressing aliens who currently do not have any piloting skills.

Despite the TSA’s attempts to clarify the rule, many pilots remain perplexed by the requirements. “Most pilots don’t know if the rule applies to them, and those who do are unsure of how to register and comply with the rule,” said AOPA president Phil Boyer. “And flight instructors are particularly unhappy about being turned into de facto immigration agents.”