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AOPA Takes A Stand On Customs Searches

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They're aware that about 12 of their 400,000 members have been stopped and searched by Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and AOPA Wednesday sent a letter to CBP seeking clarification regarding the authority for, and legal limits of, such searches. According to AOPA, none of its pilot members who have been stopped knew of any reason for the searches. The pilot group has filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request for documents related to those events, "but so far they have been unresponsive," Steve Hodges, AOPA director of media relations, told AVweb Thursday. Meanwhile, AOPA has crafted a kneeboard-sized advisory checklist for pilots, titled "What to do if stopped by law enforcement." CBP has already given AOPA a timeframe within which it can expect a response to its concerns. And through its letter, AOPA has offered a litigious reply.

AOPA's letter (PDF) challenges CBP to provide a "full explanation" of "the legal basis for CBP to stop and detain aircraft and conduct searches" within U.S. borders and with no connection to a border crossing. AOPA says it has been told on May 16 by CBP that it should receive a reply to its concerns within six months. AOPA's position is that if CBP does not respond to its FOIA request by July 20, it "will pursue such other remedies as are available at law" and contact members of Congress to seek intervention. The first item on the kneeboard advisory list (PDF) is a statement printed in bold text that begins "ALWAYS: Be courteous and respectful ..." It continues to includes basic pilot protections and questions a pilot should ask. And it concludes with a suggestion to step back and take mental inventory: "Are you able to continue your flight safely after such an ordeal?" Pilot who have been stopped by CBP have reported high stress levels as multiple agencies, numerous people, and sometimes canines are called to the scene without offering the pilot much information about reasons for the action.

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