Security Bill Fought In New Jersey

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IDs, Background Checks "Unconstitutional"...

Yet another state is trying to jump the legal pecking order and pass its own laws on pilot identification and background checks. The New Jersey Senate has introduced Bill 1438 (sponsored by Sen. Peter A. Inverso (R)) that would require any student pilot or any pilot who wants to rent an aircraft to be fingerprinted and submit to a criminal-background check. The state is also planning to issue photo IDs to approved pilots, and FBOs and flight schools would have to check those cards before handing over the keys. There's a hearing today by the state Senate's transportation committee and AOPA will be front and center with its opposition to the bill. "This bill is unconstitutional, unneeded and unfair to New Jersey pilots and aviation businesses," said Andy Cebula, AOPA's government expert. And while some of us might agree that the new bill would be a pain, there are more than a few New Jersey pilots whose wings may already have been legally clipped by an initiative that AOPA claims to have sponsored.

...Jersey Pilots Already Targeted...

A few weeks ago, the FAA ordered that all pilots carry photo ID. And since most of us drive to the airport, it seemed reasonable that state driver's licenses be the ID of choice. AOPA trumpeted the new rule as its idea and a simple way to meet the government's apparent belief that identification is the foundation of security. The announcement was made at AOPA Expo 2002. It was also announced that it would become effective within two days. Well, while the champagne corks flew in Palm Springs, the news went over like a lead balloon in New Jersey. For while it's anxious to make sure pilots have photo IDs, renewals of state driver's licenses in New Jersey generally provide the holder with a pictureless card to be used together with the expired photo ID. If they are flying with expired photographic IDs that may mean many Jersey pilots were, and perhaps still are, in violation of the new rule. For New Jersey pilots, presumably the new pilot IDs (which AOPA is fighting) would satisfy the new regulation (which AOPA is taking credit for).

...Issue Has Broad Reach

Confused? Well imagine how the legislators in Michigan and the Board of Advisors of San Mateo County, Calif., feel as they watch all this unfold. As AVweb reported in October, Michigan wants to mandate background checks for all student pilots and, presumably, deny them training if they don't pass. FAA lawyers say only the federal government can regulate flight schools. The outcome of AOPA's legal battle in Michigan may affect similar attempts elsewhere. Out on the West Coast, San Mateo officials simply don't have confidence in the feds or their state leaders to keep their little corner of the world safe from airborne terrorists. They passed an ordinance requiring student pilots using San Carlos and Half Moon Bay airports to have background checks. Soon there will be a section in pilot training manuals on navigating red tape.