Boston Globe Highlights Lack Of Scrutiny At FAA


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.