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Mon, Mar 03, 2008

Schumer Says TSA Isn't Doing Enough To Monitor Foreign Flight Students

Agency Denies Claimed Gaps In Screening Process

A New York senator says the Transportation Security Administration isn't doing enough to ensure foreign students training at US flight schools are properly vetted and cleared -- an assertion TSA vehemently denies.

Senator Chuck Schumer (right) made his allegations Sunday, reports Newsday. The bombastic senator -- a all-too-familiar name to general aviation pilots -- said the TSA's failure to conduct background checks on foreign students "is 9/11, or at least the failure that led up to 9/11, all over again."

In addition to calling for increased airspace restrictions for small aircraft operating around New York City, Schumer was also one of the proponents for mandatory criminal background checks for all flight school students training in the state -- on top of federal guidelines that already call for such checks for foreign students, and identity checks for US residents.

As ANN reported, in August 2007 a judge ruled such a law at the state level was unconstitutional.

TSA spokesman Jon Allen denies the agency is lax with its background checks for student pilots from other countries, who wish to train in the United States.
"Each and every foreign national that applies for flight training at any FAA-certified school anywhere in the world is checked by TSA prior to beginning that training," he said.

Allen adds TSA has conducted over 8,000 inspections at flight schools, and works with Immigrations and Customs Enforcement agents to make sure only legal, documented students are training at those facilities.

Schumer counters TSA enforcement is inadequate, with several gaps -- and claims over 8,000 foreign student pilots haven't been properly checked, but were still able to enroll and earn pilot licenses.

"If there was ever a place for TSA to focus its efforts and beef up security, this one should be a no-brainer," Schumer said. "It is simply unbelievable that TSA would look the other way on the gaping security loophole that led directly to the 9/11 attacks. Thousands upon thousands of people are attending flight schools and becoming pilots that legally should have never gotten through the front door without clearing the background check first."

Schumer has sent a letter to FAA Acting Administrator Bobby Sturgell, and TSA chief Kip Hawley, calling for an audit of the background check process -- and stiffer fines for schools that knowingly attempt to circumvent the process. He also wants background checks on all flight-school applicants.



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