Last Updated:September 2 @ 12:47 pm

Americans on no-fly list allowed to take flying lessons

By Eileen Sullivan

WASHINGTON (AP) - U.S. citizens who are on the government's list of people banned from flying because they're considered terror threats are not prevented from learning how to fly in schools around the country, according to government regulation.

Such a person may have to drive across the country to learn how to fly a plane because he or she would likely be stopped from boarding a commercial airliner. But the security checks put in place after the 9/11 attacks will not keep the person from receiving pilot training.

The security loophole was raised during a hearing Wednesday to examine the Homeland Security Department's programs to screen foreigners who want to attend flight schools in the U.S. Some of the 9/11 hijackers were able to learn to fly in the U.S. while living in the country illegally. The government put in several more layers of security after the attacks, and foreigners now receive criminal background checks and are screened against terror watch lists before they are allowed to begin training. U.S. citizens, however, are not subject to the same scrutiny.

"I was stunned. That just caught me completely off guard, and I'm pretty angry about it," Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Ala., said after the hearing. "Everybody should be concerned."

The government has other screening requirements for someone to receive a pilot's license or other certificate to fly a plane which include criminal background checks and screening against terror watch lists. But Rogers said if the government doesn't want someone on an airplane because he or she is a terror threat, there's no reason why that person should be allowed to learn how to fly.

Kerwin Wilson, the Transportation Security Administration official who oversees the flight school screening program, said he did not know whether an American on the no-fly list has actually undergone flight training in the U.S. in the past 10 years.

"Keep in mind, the way the program is set up, there's layered security in place," Wilson said, adding that once someone receives a flight certificate, he or she is screened against other criminal and terrorism databases regularly. Wilson also cautioned that putting U.S. citizens through these additional security checks could cost more money.

This did not allay concerned lawmakers.

Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., and the top Democrat on the House Homeland Security committee, said the only thing the government does not do for a U.S. citizen on the no-fly list is give him or her a license to fly a plane.

"We've trained them to do it. That's my concern," Thompson said.

Rogers, chairman of the subcommittee that held Wednesday's hearing, said he plans to raise this with the head of the TSA, and if the agency can't fix the problem, he plans to introduce legislation that would.

As it is, the TSA's program to screen foreigners has its own security loopholes, according to the Government Accountability Office, a congressional watchdog agency.

The TSA screening program does not automatically determine whether a prospective flight student is in the U.S. legally, said Stephen Lord, who heads GAO's homeland security and justice programs. In 2010, law enforcement investigated a flight school in the Boston area and found that eight people at the school approved for flight training by TSA were in the country illegally, and 17 more had stayed in the country longer than they were allowed, Lord told lawmakers. The owner of the flight school was in the country illegally as well.

The TSA and Immigration and Customs Enforcement have agreed to share more information with each other, officials from those agencies said.

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7 Comments

  1. nickster99Comment by nickster99
    July 18, 2012 @ 2:32 pm

    Its true that history repeats itself!

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    Rating: 4.4/5 (9 votes cast)
  2. BillzillaComment by Billzilla
    July 18, 2012 @ 3:54 pm

    Idiots!

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    Rating: 4.1/5 (9 votes cast)
    • lwessonComment by lwesson
      July 18, 2012 @ 5:01 pm

      I read something that about 100,000 Muslims are allowed in the country, “OUR” country every year?! Surely this was a typo. 10,000 deported?

      Talk about idiots. Talk about TREASON. And, “Citizens”, my you know what.

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      Rating: 4.3/5 (6 votes cast)
  3. mobilln2Comment by mobilln2
    July 18, 2012 @ 4:16 pm

    We need to be consistent, either we want more govt control or we don’t. We are going to let the govt take a way another freedom and restrict our activities. I believe we are letting the terrorist win again by spending more money to expand govt regulations and we are losing a liberty by not letting us citizens learn to fly. When will the infringement on our rights stop.

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  4. handymanherbComment by handymanherb
    July 18, 2012 @ 6:37 pm

    OK first of all why are citizens on the no fly list, but even if they do take flying lessons, that cost money and and plane you can rent to fly now days is going to be big money to rent thanks to 9/11, even though you can’t get enough explosives in a small plane to do much damage.

    But then they didn’t like the ideal that little guys could jump in a plane and fly any where, so with the 9/11 ******** the rates went through the roof and stopped a lot of pilots from every flying again, So you can feel safer by giving up another persons right to happiness.

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  5. jcmooreComment by jcmoore
    July 18, 2012 @ 7:45 pm

    Like the 15 SAUDIS (from Saudi Arabia) of the 19 9/11/01 Trade Center terrorists, who were permitted to take lessons on how to fly (while not wanting to learn how to land), this will be permitted? By the way, after the Trade center, Pentagon and Pennsylvania massacres, our idiot government went after Iraq which had nothing to do with it. I guess that the ties to Saudi oil were too strong to even consider retaliation to the REAL PERPETRATORS and enablers. The results of our imperious strategies were thousands of dead soldiers MORE than perished in the 9/11 tragedy and we are STILL PROMOTING MORE interventions that are increasing mid east hostilities.

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  6. mudguyComment by mudguy
    July 19, 2012 @ 9:22 am

    When we don’t enforce our immigration laws this is what we get. When we allow sanctuary cities and allow the illegal students to get finical aid. Then the flight school in Mass. the owner was an illegal. What else do expect to happen.

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