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Pilot Arrested After DHS Surveillance

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A Utah pilot is facing numerous charges after apparently being caught by a federal program that aviation groups have suggested may violate pilots' rights. As in other cases publicized by the groups over the past year, 53-year-old Ken Barton Burrows was met by armed agents from the Department of Homeland Security and local police when he landed his Cessna single at New Castle Airport. At that point, all the federal agents may have known was that Burrows was flying low and refueling at small, out-of-the-way airports on his way from California. But according to the Ellwood City Ledger, the difference in his case is that authorities found 240 pounds of marijuana in the plane.  According to the criminal complaint filed against him, Burrows attracted attention on his two-day flight from northern California by trying to avoid it. He stayed at low altitude, flew a route that avoided urban areas, refueled at small airports and had darkly tinted the windows of the airplane.

Reports of detention and search of general aviation pilots and their airplanes over the last year spurred AOPA and Congress to pressure the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and Customs and Border Protection (CBP) to justify its surveillance of domestic flights. According to AOPA, DHS has reported that it monitors general aviation operations using FAA and military radar, unspecified communications networks and unspecified databases. According to the Ledger, DHS began tracking Burrows’ flight at some point and eventually used a Blackhawk helicopter to follow him. After landing at New Castle, a police dog sniffed the pot and a warrant was obtained to search the plane. DHS agents determined Burrows was not a threat to national security and turned prosecution over to local law enforcement. Once the marijuana was removed, DHS seized the $165,000 aircraft and flew the airplane on to its destination in Rhode Island as part of an operation to capture the dealer who was purchasing the marijuana, who apparently took the bait.

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