Sailplanes, Balloons Exempted From TSA Alien Rules

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The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) has demonstrated hindsight and possibly the ability to listen -- this exact issue was brought to the attention of TSA Rear Adm. David "The Head Honcho" Stone at AOPA Expo last month. The TSA has determined (granted, after publishing the rule) that gliders and lighter-than-air aircraft "do not present a material threat," the Soaring Society of America (SSA) said on Monday, and therefore, they will be exempt from the TSA's recent rules that require flight schools to notify the TSA when aliens want to learn to fly. Last Friday, the TSA issued its decision, saying that since gliders, balloons, and airships are slow-moving, small, and carry little or no fuel, they "would not be capable of inflicting significant damage if they were used in suicide attacks." Dennis Wright, the SSA's executive director, welcomed the exemption from the "onerous" rules. No comments on water ballast, please. "Staff and members who commented to the docket brought well-reasoned arguments for the exclusion of glider operations," he said. "The result is better than we expected." The SSA added that the rules as first proposed would have had a "chilling effect" on glider flight training. "SSA estimated that the rules would have been directly responsible for a 15- to 20-percent decrease in soaring school revenues nationwide," the group said in a news release. The TSA's Interim Final Rule on flight training, published in September, included a promise that the agency would review comments from the industry and tweak the rule as it deemed fit. Over the last few weeks, the TSA has announced some clarifications and refinements, but this is the first blanket exemption to whole categories of aircraft.