U.S. Senator Calls Out FAA For ‘Major’ National Security Breaches


U.S. Senator Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, who co-chairs the Senate Caucus on International Narcotics Control, released a report yesterday (April 8) on alleged loopholes in the FAA registration process that enable “drug cartels and bad actors” to widely use covertly registered aircraft to threaten U.S. national security and enable global drug trafficking.

Grassley said, “While Americans rely on the Federal Aviation Administration to provide smooth transport from point A to point B, criminals are taking advantage of the system to transport illicit goods and make a profit. The FAA’s stubborn habit of rubber stamping registrants leaves the door open for drug traffickers and would-be terrorists to wreak havoc in the U.S. and abroad. FAA’s failure is contributing to the drug crisis, burdening law enforcement, and creating a major national security risk. I’ll be pushing to hold the FAA accountable and advocating for a legislative solution to put a stop to this abuse.”

Grassley’s summary of the report’s findings alleges that criminals use shell companies and noncitizen trusts to register aircraft in the U.S., “which cartels often use to transport and deliver illicit drugs.” The summary adds that the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) recommended “basic fixes” in 2020 such as expanding information sharing from [aircraft] registrants, verifying applicants’ information and eligibility, improving data collection and analysis of FAA registrants and aircraft owners and enhancing coordination with law enforcement.

Grassley claims the FAA has implemented only three of 20 GAO recommendations involving shoring up the aircraft registration process.

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Mark Phelps is a senior editor at AVweb. He is an instrument rated private pilot and former owner of a Grumman American AA1B and a V-tail Bonanza.


  1. With WIDE OPEN borders, I don’t think the drug problem will be cured with more N-Number scrutiny.

  2. What a load of baloney! Every time Congress won’t take action to enforce the border, they choose the easiest target to scapegoat, general aviation. In the 1990’s FAA implemented rules to require pilots to carry on the airplane the 337 paperwork for any aftermarket aux fuel tanks. N numbers on the tail had to be 12” tall to cross the border. Certain GA planes that had large carrying capacity entering the country got more intensive inspections from customs. This was supposed to be a deterrent to drug smuggling. And after 9/11 the GATE program customs had established with no known violations got cancelled for no reason. Time for politicians to start funding border enforcement instead of picking on general aviation!

  3. Oh? An over-the-hiller grasping for relevance? Have a seat Chuck. The rocking chair’s just behind you.

  4. I wouldn’t know Grassley from a hole in the wall, but don’t see how this ties to open borders. This action by any Congressman isn’t surprising to anyone who is aware of Wright Brothers Aircraft Title and Aircraft Guaranty Corp. (AGC) saga. As reported on by AvWeb as well as many others they were accused of acting as a trustee, which is not an issue, but used the system to “circumvent United States laws and regulations by placing N numbers in the hands of drug traffickers and prohibited foreign nationals.” Even the perception that is occurring let alone that individuals are being indicted over it isn’t good for aviation. And the fact that someone is tightening the belt over it in DC had to be foreseen.

    • Certainly choosing an N-number that’s currently unregistered, and setting one’s ADS-B to that, would allow anyone to do pretty much anything. Who checks? Actually crossing the border is trivial. Once “inside”, just fly.
      It would be cheaper and easier to legalize all drugs for adults, and punish bad behavior.

  5. Makes sense to me. There’s at least one company I know of that does those registrations, and they never returned my calls.

  6. Sounds like “shell companies and noncitizen trusts” are the issue here, not any of the rest of this. The Senator should tackle that problem.

    • lol, yeah, and cure cancer while he’s at it. LLC’s and all the other incorporation mumbo jumbo is the only way to protect a company from legal attacks, just or unjust. So really, he needs to fix the tort system first, right?

  7. Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to another fact-free episode of AvWeb comments.

    Most fentanyl is smuggled into the US by American citizens traveling through official ports of entry and not on the backs of South Americans seeking safety from criminal gangs.

    Claiming the problem is due to “wide open borders” is like claiming wide open borders also cause dandruff and bad breath. Very convenient and not especially connected to reality. Time to find another whipping boy. As noted above, commenters have some favorites scapegoats, so why not blame elite universities, DEI, etc. etc. etc.?

    • Chuck Grassley (like most regulators) wants to increase Federal investigative power on the citizenry. He’s the one proposing unrealistic “solutions” and using scare tactics of security to do that. As far as the drug problem, they cannot even keep illegal drugs out of the White House.

  8. Chuck Grassley is one of those in congress that are seriously intellectually challenged and not interested in facts, truth, logic or common sense. Yes, there have been some drug smugglers who have created shell companies and hide their identities to smuggle drugs. But, it’s like saying drug smugglers grew up drinking mother’s milk so we should look into controlling mother’s milk. It’s not a problem for the cartels to find an American citizen with no criminal background to buy a plane and use it to smuggle drugs (something Grassley’s campaign will not stop). He needs to focus his efforts and funding on more airborne surveillance and tracking and meeting suspicious planes where they land. And more border patrol inspectors, drug dogs and other measures at Ports of Entry and along the border. This shouldn’t be a political issue focused on GA for talking points. It’s about common sense and not wasting your time chasing hairbrain ideas. Congress, and the country, need to get rid of congress members like Grassley.

  9. I read the report. Grassley’s recommendations seem reasonable and not onerous to me. They will likely make it more difficult for illegal drug transportation via airplane and ask for little more information from us owners than we are expected to provide already. And the information asked for is easily developed and provided so it’s not an imposition. I agree with his recommendation.

    • I read the report too. Honestly, the FAA is not supposed to be investigating drug cartels. They do not have the manpower nor is it in their charter. We already have agencies that are tasked with and are trained to “investigate” criminal activity.