Craig Fuller, president and CEO of the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA), on Monday called for a full review at the federal and local level to determine how misinformation that was easily verifiable as outdated led to the armed detention of two of the aviation community’s most respected members.
On Saturday, Aug. 28, John and Martha King, founders of the King Schools, were detained at gunpoint after arriving at Santa Barbara’s airport because the registration number assigned to the 2009 Cessna 172 they were flying had once been assigned to a Cessna 150 that had been reported stolen eight years ago.
“Simply put, this incident is as outrageous as it is inexplicable and raises serious questions about the coordination of information among federal and local authorities,” said Fuller.
According to John King, who was piloting the airplane, upon landing at Santa Barbara, the airplane was directed to a remote part of the airport instead of the FBO where the Kings planned to park. There, four police cruisers were parked. After shutting down the engine, King was ordered out of the aircraft with his hands up and told to back slowly toward the officers, who had guns drawn. After he was handcuffed and placed in a cruiser, Martha was ordered to similarly exit the aircraft. She too was handcuffed and placed in a separate cruise.
Santa Barbara Police told the Kings that their information on the aircraft came from a “private company,” John King said. He later learned that the information came from the El Paso Intelligence Center (EPIC), which was initially created under the Drug and Enforcement Administration to stop drug traffic, but was given additional counterterrorism-related duties after the attacks on New York and Washington, D.C., in 2001. Originally staffed by three federal agencies, EPIC is now staffed by 15 federal agencies and two Texas agencies, one state and one local. It has never been a private company.
“We have every right to expect more from our government’s security officials than this!” declared Fuller. “A $2 app for an iPad and 30 seconds would have discovered sufficient information to raise serious doubt that John and Martha King, who filed an instrument flight plan in a Cessna 172, were transporting an older stolen Cessna 150 whose N-number had long ago been retired and reissued by the FAA.
“The Kings deserve an apology from senior officials with responsibility over the agencies involved and the general aviation community deserves a full accounting of what went wrong and just how the process will be fixed.”
Ironically, the FAA has just issued new regulations intended to ensure the accuracy of the federal aircraft registry. But if other federal agencies either don’t know how to or won’t access the information, AOPA is forced to wonder whether such accuracy can be of maximum value, Fuller said, adding the association plans to press for a full accounting of what went wrong and what is being done to correct it before other innocent pilots are put in harm’s way.