Calls go out for full investigation of King detention

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called for a full review at the federal and local level to determine how misinformation that was easily verifiable as outdated led to the armed detention of two of the aviation community’s most respected members.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.


  1. says

    In several times in and out of the USA I have never been hasseled by anyone but USA Customs.
    Aren’t you just anxious for the Feds to take oveer our Health Care?!!

  2. Glen Kowalchuk says

    In April 2009, a month before eAPIS went “live” I flew a Cessna 172 down to Duluth from Manitoba. This 2.5 hour flight became the most “educational” flight of a life time. I like to think of it as educational because what I took away from this “experience” was that the law’s of common sense do not exist when it comes to home land security. I filed my eAPIS the same as I had done numerous times from CKK7 (Steinbach) with the same aircraft tail number, same pilot license. However on this date, even though I had email and hard copies of my eAPIS arrival record, the CBP officers had something quite different on their computer. My records indicated origin = CKK7, Steinbach, Manitoba Canada. Their records indicated origin= Russia.

    With six officers surrounding my 172 at KDLH I tried to reason while weapons were drawn that it was impossible for me to fly from Russia to Duluth in a 172! Even after I handed hard copies of my eAPIS arrival along with passports indicating my Canadian origin, they were asking my intentions as if I had just left Russia. I found the whole event almost hilarious but dared not laugh for fear of their retaliation. Obviously this was a very serious situation and they were not the least bit amused.

    After a couple phone calls they decided to “clear” my arrival but the process was cold, intense and numbing to say the least.

    Today when I fly into the states, I plan for the worst, expect intense interrogations and make ample sure that all my papers are in order.

    Increase security does not equal IMPROVED SECURITY. perhaps we can all learn from this debacle?

  3. says

    No wonder pilot numbers are declining. Every pilot is a suspected drug runner or terrorist and is treated as such by our endless number of “security” agencies from local police to ICE, TSA, FBI, DEA, “Homeland” Security, ad. infinitum. Loved the part about no apology … and we pay their salaries for being arrogant and incompetent.

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