TSA Watch: Another Misstep?

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When it first opened its doors and began it primary mission, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) began to be called "Too Stupid to Ask," a reference to the then-new agency's uncanny and repeatable ability to act first and then ask questions of the industry it was trying to regulate. As it became more accustomed to its role -- and as people more experienced with the airline industry came aboard and were actually listened to by top management -- industry's problems with the TSA lessened in severity, if not number. Now, however, as the agency seemingly catches its breath with many of the challenges of airline security tamped down, "mission creep" has become the watchword among many outside observers. Even though its newest role was handed to it by Congress, that watchword is coming home to haunt a general aviation industry still wrestling with the impact of the new rule on flight training dropped on desks last week. Among the major issues with the new rule is the short time frame allowed to flight schools, independent CFIs and many other flight-training providers to understand and comply with the rule before its two effective dates: Oct. 5, for training in an aircraft weighing more than 12,500 pounds, and Oct. 20, for training in smaller ones. But, it's not like no one knew this was coming.

The underlying statute was enacted into law on Dec. 12, 2003, the basic program has been in effect at the Department of Justice since 2002 and aviation's alphabet soup has had most of a year to get ready for it. To be sure, the new rule is onerous in its reach and record-keeping requirements. Also, many aspects of it are as yet unclear. What liability will a CFI assume when determining that a person is or is not a U.S. citizen under the rule? What penalties might be imposed for making a mistake in, say, reading a birth certificate or a passport, neither of which the average CFI is trained to review? AOPA said yesterday that, "As currently written, the rule requires every student and pilot to prove his or her citizenship status prior to taking any kind of flight training, including flight reviews. Flight instructors are required to keep copies of pilots' personal information (which could include social security cards, birth certificates, or passports) for five years." In sum, the new rule -- and especially the short fuse it carries for compliance -- stands to set back relations between GA and the TSA to the "bad old days" when the agency couldn't shoot straight. Hopefully, cooler heads will prevail at the TSA and detailed guidance will be forthcoming. AVweb will continue to monitor and report on this developing issue.