Flight instructors blindsided by GAO report

When you eat bananas, the best people to ask how the bananas taste are those who eat bananas. When you want to know about growing bananas, you ask those who grow the bananas. So if you do an investigative report dealing with flight instruction, wouldn’t you go to those involved in teaching student pilots?

On Wednesday, July 19, the Government Accountability Office made public its report on security threats and the Transportation Security Administration’s Alien Flight Student Program (49 CFR 1552 Subpart A). Report GAO-12-875 is the sanitized version of a report issued back in June 2012, which has information that the TSA determined to fall into the realm of sensitive security information (SSI). This report was the subject of a hearing by the U.S. House Subcommittee on Transportation Security this week. In the process of developing its report the GAO interviewed representatives of no less than six different industry associations (GAO-12-875, page 5).

Now I’ve been a member of the National Association of Flight Instructors (NAFI) for many years. I figured that it was time to drop a dime and give NAFI Executive Director Jason Blair a call. As I confirmed with Jason, the GAO never contacted NAFI. Jason told me that he and NAFI feel blindsided by the report. However, he is more concerned about solutions.

“It’s important that we work to find an appropriate remedy for any real or perceived security holes,” Jason stated. “And that in doing so we do not create a solution that would solve the problem, but hinder the flight training community’s ability to train pilots. We want a secure, safe flight training system, but are concerned about an overly restrictive solution.”

I also spoke with Doug Stewart, executive director for the Society of Aviation and Flight Educators (SAFE). It seems that Jason is not the only one who feels blindsided by this report. In speaking with Doug he told me, “GAO has come to us in other areas. I’m surprised they didn’t come to us on this.”

Now to the GAO’s credit, they did seek information from 10 flight schools. But that approach seems to short-circuit the methodology of seeking the larger point of view of associations with many members, as they did with the half dozen other organizations.

When a solution is forged to mitigate the threat of foreign terrorists learning to fly in our own backyard — even before it’s being forged — I sincerely hope that both NAFI and SAFE are consulted from the very beginning on any security solution. They represent many of us who grow the bananas.

Fly safe, and be secure!


Dave Hook, an expert on general aviation security, is president of Planehook Aviation Services, LLC in San Antonio, Texas.


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