Boston Globe Highlights Lack Of Scrutiny At FAA

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A two-part Boston Globe Spotlight investigation into the tracking of aircraft registrants and pilots with criminal ties found an overwhelming lack of scrutiny on the part of the Federal Aviation Administration. The investigation puts the FAA in the crosshairs for being unable to assist law enforcement with connecting U.S.-registered aircraft to the persons who actually own them—potentially an important piece of evidence in terrorism, drug trafficking and international corruption investigations. “A Los Angeles DEA agent who investigates narcotics-related aircraft said the dummy ownership makes it harder for him to draw a direct connection between drug dealers and their product,” according to the Globe report. Globe reporters found that of the 314,529 aircraft registered with the FAA, 54,232 are registered using methods potentially calculated to make it harder to trace aircraft ownership, and 7,610 are registered to companies known for providing trust services to non-U.S. citizens—allowing subversion of FAA rules requiring that U.S. aircraft be registered to U.S. persons.

The Globe also found the FAA has almost never revoked the pilot licenses of suspected terrorists or people convicted of serious crimes. Several suspected terrorists were found holding FAA licenses when a computer scientist used the FAA airmen directory and public terrorist watch lists as sample data to test a search algorithm, not expecting to get any matches. “In all, [Mark] Schiffer and his company, Safe Banking Systems of New York, confirmed eight matches between FAA-approved airmen and various watch lists,” said the Globe report. In one exceptional case, a pilot convicted of attempting to smuggle spare parts for the F-14 Tomcat to Iran didn’t just keep his license. “Tabib, a veteran airman who at one time piloted private flights for the designer Gianni Versace, pleaded guilty and served time in federal prison from July 2007 until January 2009. Yet, according to court records, the FAA issued him an Airline Transport Pilot certificate, the highest-level license for pilots, just three months after his release, allowing him to fly large jets,” says the Globe article.

Comments (6)

Let's not go overboard revoking airman certificates.

For example, people can find themselves on the terrorist no-fly list for a variety of innocent reasons. I worked as a WMD intelligence analyst many years ago and, after my program managers had a serious disagreement with one of my analyses, I found myself on the terrorist no-fly list. I never learned how, or by whom, I was placed on the list and it would have been a real shame if I had lost my pilot license over it.

I recount this now to remind everyone that there is an arbitrary element to these things. There is no requirement to present evidence, there is no burden of proof, there is no provision for individuals to learn the specific charges against them or to confront their accuser.

The FAA has specific processes to revoke the certificates of those who pose a demonstrable threat to public safety. The agency should not be pressured to expand certificate actions to include individuals who have been accused of being bad people.

Posted by: kim hunter | September 26, 2017 4:17 PM    Report this comment

I agree. Considering that the local Massachusetts authorities hamper the Federal government enforcement of immigration laws, this article from the Boston Globe is about as hippacritical as it gets. Just because a type rating or certificate is issued does not mean that person is legal to fly. I wonder if the author bothered to crosscheck to see if the pilot the Globe mentions actually had a current medical. The NRA has also fought against using these "no-fly lists" for the same reasons the previous commenter has quoted. This is one of those rare times that I do not fault the FAA.

Posted by: matthew wagner | September 26, 2017 5:40 PM    Report this comment

>> Globe reporters found that of the 314,529 aircraft registered with the FAA, 54,232 are registered using methods potentially calculated to make it harder to trace aircraft ownership, and 7,610 are registered to companies known for providing trust services to non-U.S. citizens--allowing subversion of FAA rules requiring that U.S. aircraft be registered to U.S. persons.

Wellll...since we seem to be busily declaring that corporations are "persons" for a wide variety of eye-watering purposes, having a plane registered to "Hideout LLC" isn't legally subverting anything. Until we get back to "people are people and companies are something else", we're stuck with this.

Posted by: Scott Dunham | September 27, 2017 10:32 AM    Report this comment

Security risk?
Ask the Boston Globe how many Federal illegals are on the roads operating cars/trucks with incorrect registrations just in THEIR STATE. Where is the story about the security risk of TENS OF MILLIONS of people who should NOT be operating vehicles of any kind in this country but are being allowed to do so?

What makes this article beyond outrageous is the Boston Globe's inerrant support of Bostons policy of NOT COOPERATING with Federal authorities on illegals (even after the marathon bombing). Hello?

Posted by: Mark Fraser | September 27, 2017 11:39 AM    Report this comment

Foreign entities love to operate N numbered airplanes as flags of convenience. There's a whole industry of US companies who profit by shadowy leasing practices that hide kleptocrats, cartel people and sundry lawbreakers, and they fly in and out of the US with little scrutiny. The Globe is right. The FAA tolerates this. Once in a while one of them crashes, and when authorities try to track true ownership and responsibility, it's tough to do. It's an ugly business.

Posted by: Roger Cox | September 27, 2017 3:14 PM    Report this comment

Speaking from experience, nobody flies private or charter N registered airplanes or any other in or out of the country with little scrutiny. That is the job of CBP. They do a good job of hassling crews and passengers/owners when clearing in or out of the country. Ever hear of APIS? If Customs is actually doing their jobs with APIS info, tracking people flying into the country should not be a problem. Crossing the border via car or truck is another story since there is no APIS requirement for that. As I said in my first post the Globe is way out of line on this issue!

Posted by: matthew wagner | September 27, 2017 4:59 PM    Report this comment

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