AOPA issues checklist: ‘What To Do If Stopped by Law Enforcement’

The Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA) has notified the head of U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) that general aviation pilots and their aircraft continue to be subjected to what appear to be random searches while federal officials have failed to respond to a four-month-old AOPA public records request for information about the searches.

In a letter to Acting Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Thomas S. Winkowski, AOPA General Counsel Ken Mead stated that AOPA has been contacted by nearly a dozen members who have been “detained for hours while their documentation, belongings and aircraft,” were searched.

Those searches took place, Mead noted, “even though these flights originated and ended well within the borders of the United States.”

“We cannot identify what authority is granted Customs and Border Protection to monitor general aviation activity within the borders of the United States,” Mead wrote, “and we question the authority under which CBP is conducting this monitoring, stop and search activity.”

AOPA also is now distributing a checklist offering guidance to pilots if they are stopped by law enforcement and a search is requested.

The checklist, designed to fit on a pilot’s kneeboard, advises members of important questions to ask law enforcement and also the regulations regarding searches.

It was made available to AOPA members through a special edition of the association’s ePilot electronic newsletter. It is also available to all pilots at

AOPA members have recently reported that their aircraft were searched without a warrant by CBP agents, who sometimes acted with local law enforcement. None of the cases have resulted in arrests or the confiscation of contraband.

Several AOPA members agreed to let AOPA file Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests for CBP records of their search incidents. The first of those requests was made on Feb. 12, 2013.

CBP failed to provide any records within the initial 20-day period required under FOIA. Instead, it has informed AOPA by phone that it will be at least six months before records will be made available.

The AOPA letter notes that local law enforcement agencies have been responsive to records requests, and that the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency has partially replied to the records request.

The AOPA letter concludes: “If CBP does not respond to our request and produce the requested information and documents by July 20, 2013, this letter serves as notice that we will pursue such other remedies as are available at law and advise the appropriate Members of Congress and congressional committees of this matter and seek their intervention.”


  1. Pilot says

    The EAA website and this article point to links at NONE OF THEM WORK!

    “PAGE NOT FOUND” error.

    So much for the checklist offering guidance…

  2. says

    I am a very proud Canadian now, and have been for many years. I fled the Russian invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968. One of the first things I noticed after my arrival in Canada was the FREEDOM!!! people in Canada and in your beautiful country were enjoying.

    It is a sad state of affairs today. The searches you are experiencing remind me the time I lived under the Communist oppression. Today, whenever I cross the border to visit my American friends, I am searched like a criminal. And what is the saddest reality of today, are the menacingly imposing barriers at all our, once friendly and cassual, border crossings. I can attest to you, that these are putting the Cold War era communist blockades of Czechoslovakian border crossings to shame.

    I am not sure at all what is happening to you my friends, but I worry. New generations of Americans do not even know how good we had it in the seventies. Our two countries were truly free nations. Today, the once deservedly proud beacon of freedom, the United States of America, is on its knees – oppressed within.

    Very sad indeed!

    • John says

      Edward, This is a very sad state of affairs. I thought America stood for freedom. Sadly this article provides information this is not the case.

      My belief you should have the freedom to go about your legal business as long as you are in compliance with the laws. It is a sad when there are many cases of pilots and their families who are doing so, are detained for searches and no evidence is found to justify a search.

  3. Marc Coan says

    And this is why we still need AOPA and EAA: When it comes to politics, being united is everything.

  4. Tony says

    CBP, just like the ATF and IRS, has become a rouge organization that is totally out of control. These people need to be stopped. Actually, they are the ones who need to be put in jail. Reminds me of pre-WWII Nazi Germany.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *