Men in black looking for suspicious aliens

 - April 16, 2008, 6:25 AM

As of June 13 at least 50,500 foreign nationals in the U.S. for flight training on aircraft with an mtow of 12,500 lb or more were required to suspend their training until their flight schools reapply to the Department of Justice (DOJ) on their behalf. The DOJ published its interim final rule, “Screening of Aliens and Other Designated Individuals Seeking Flight Training.” The 51-page rule can be downloaded at www.access.gpo.gov/su_docs/aces/fr-cont.html.

In addition, following 30 days of public comment under a notice of proposed rulemaking, an estimated 26,000 foreign-national flight students per year will be subject to new online procedures for risk assessment. The DOJ introduced its Flight Training Candidate Checks Program (FTCCP) via www.flightschoolcandidates.gov.

As of 12:01 a.m. on June 14, when the interim final rule took effect, some 400 e-mail applications were in the DOJ queue. By 6 a.m., all had been processed, according to a spokesperson for the new Foreign Terrorist Tracking Task Force. By
 4 p.m. that day, a spokesperson said “thousands” had been processed through the system. The response required all-night staffing at the DOJ’s northern Virginia command center.

Alphabet group staffers, including NBAA manager of safety and operations Eric Ramsdell, had been advised of turnarounds of up to 48 hr. But the expedited processing has so far pleasantly surprised applicants.

Under the Aviation and Transportation Security Act, which was passed November 19, FAA-authorized flight-training organizations had to identify to the Attorney General aliens undergoing training in aircraft with an mtow exceeding 12,500 lb. The DOJ then had 45 days to assess the risk those aliens posed to aviation or national security. Following input by the alphabet groups, that requirement was twice modified to allow training to continue under a provisional, advance-consent notice. The June 13 interim final rule rescinded that advance consent, causing the avalanche of reapplications for training to continue.

Aliens in preferred categories may qualify for expedited DOJ processing–for example, foreign nationals currently employed by U.S. carriers or qualified as PIC, SIC or as flight engineer. Nearly 10 percent of pilots employed by U.S. carriers are aliens. Commercial, governmental, corporate or military pilots needing familiarization training before flying an aircraft to its purchaser or recipient may also qualify for expedited processing.

Of some 83,000 flight-training providers, about 10,000 are subject to the DOJ requirement, including training centers, certified carriers, flight schools and virtually all private flight instructors located in the U.S. who train on aircraft with an mtow of 12,500 lb or more. Private instructors outside the U.S. must comply if they are authorized by the FAA to award U.S. licenses, certificates or ratings, and the training leads to the award of such a license.

The trainer risks civil penalty unless submitting “identifying information for the candidate in such form as the Attorney General may require to initiate a security assessment.” The interim final rule contains tips to examine documents for authenticity, though NBAA feels that the DOJ and not the individual provider will ultimately bear the risk for this judgment call.

New alien student information must include full name, date of birth, country of citizenship and the passport issuing authority–the actual passport is not required until the candidate arrives for flight training. The trainer must assign the student a unique ID number to help the DOJ and FAA track the student’s records. Approvals must be renewed at every phase of training. If the Attorney General does not deny the candidate within 45 days, training may proceed but “the Attorney General can step in later to interrupt the training if he later determines that the candidate presents a risk.”

GAMA’s Ed Bolen said he was encouraged to see the rulemaking move forward, but he believes the current submission process could prove unworkable. The DOJ argued that it had acknowledged GAMA’s concerns by immediate implementation of its rule, saying that a lengthy review would stall applications for “entitlement training” provided to foreign purchasers of U.S.-manufactured aircraft.

Justice cited several examples of alphabet-group influence, including its sensitivity to potential losses for operators of the approximately 700 U.S.-based flight simulators, which would lose revenue from rental and billable hours for their instructors, and local economies could suffer from reduced demand for overnight accommodations, meals and transportation. The DOJ also concluded that if 50,500 aliens need recurrent training three times yearly, up to 12,625 pilots per month would risk losing their status if processing or the rule was delayed.