County to require flight schools to certify compliance regarding screening of foreign students
SAN DIEGO (CNS) – The San Diego County Board of Supervisors tentatively
agreed Wednesday to require flight schools and instructors who teach foreigners to
fly at county-run airports to annually certify they are complying with federal
screening and vetting requirements.
If adopted in a second vote Feb. 26, the ordinance proposed by
Supervisor Dianne Jacob on Sept. 11, 2012, would mandate operators who lease or
sublease county property sign a statement each fiscal year, saying that
guidelines for screening and monitoring foreign flight students are being
followed to the best of their knowledge.
Violations of the ordinance could result in warnings, citations or
schools being denied the use of county airports.
“We have more reason today than ever before to have this certification
in place,” Jacob said. “It's simple, it's not adding bureaucracy, it's not
doing the job of the federal government.”
The first 9/11 hijackers to arrive in the United States — Khalid al-
Mihdhar and Nawaf al-Hazmi — settled in San Diego in January 2000 and took
flight lessons at Montgomery Field. Hijacker-pilot Hani Hanjour arrived in
December of that year.
Jacob's proposal was based on a 2012 U.S. General Accounting Office
report that concluded the federal government did not adequately monitor foreign
flight students, that foreign nationals were applying for flight certificates
from the Federal Aviation Administration without being properly vetted and that
there was little coordination between the Transportation Security
Administration and immigration officials.
The proposed ordinance seeks to confirm that flight schools and
instructors are following the law, but would not undermine federal authority.
“Here we are 13 years after 9/11 and the problems brought out in that
GAO report in 2012 are still not resolved,” Jacob said.
Advisory committees at three of the eight affected airfields — the
Fallbrook Airpark, Gillespie Field and McClellan-Palomar Airport — each voted
unanimously against Jacob's proposal at meetings in November.
Several members of the local airport industry also urged the board to
withdraw the proposal.
Tom Hannawa, owner of American Aviation Academy at Gillespie Field, said
hundreds of foreign pilots trained at the school, then returned home. Many
were later employed by their national airlines.
His academy's compliance requirements have been overseen and monitored
by several government agencies, he said, including U.S. Immigration and Customs
Enforcement, the TSA, the FAA and the Department of Justice.
“The suggestion that we are illegally training foreign pilots is
absurd,” Hannawa said.
If approved, staff will review the ordinance in a year, work to make
officials in other counties aware of it and increase advocacy at the federal