NPRM Treats U.S. and non-U.S. Pilots Differently

 - October 27, 2008, 12:16 PM

This TSA NPRM could have a profound effect on the American pilots who fly aircraft with an mtow of more than 12,500 pounds.

Here’s what it includes: “GA aircraft operators would be required to...ensure that their flight crewmembers have undergone a fingerprint-based criminal history records check.” Suddenly, American “large aircraft” pilots are in the TSA’s sights. What’s the purpose of the criminal-history records check? Is someone with a criminal history who has already been punished and paid his debt to society now considered a threat to national security?

One question the NPRM does not answer is what type of criminal history the agency will regard as unacceptable for pilots, thereby ending their flying careers. Is bank robbery a no-no but corporate fraud OK?

The proposed rule also doesn’t mention non-U.S. pilots. Every day, foreign private aircraft fly into the U.S. For these aircraft–as for U.S.-registered aircraft, even on domestic flights–the TSA must receive details about all passengers before approving their flight. But there’s no requirement for non-U.S. pilots to be fingerprinted or to provide criminal history data. It is unclear whether this omission was a bureaucratic oversight at the TSA or the agency’s recognition that in certain parts of the world criminal records are “unavailable.”

This is not to criticize non-U.S. pilots. But it is certainly critical of the mentality behind the TSA’s NPRM. For example, what’s the damage potential of an explosives-packed 18-wheeler driven into a high-value target versus a medium twin attempting a repeat of 9/11? And which is the easier enforcement target, with better public-relations spin for the TSA–the criminal histories of truck drivers, or those of fat-cat business jet pilots?