The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) created the controversial “No-Fly List” to keep known and suspected terrorists off U.S. airplanes. However, according to government auditors, Americans on this list may still enroll in U.S. flight schools. How is this possible, you ask? The answer is because most administrators neglect to run background checks on citizens applying for training to fly a plane.
This security loophole came to light in mid-July during a governmental hearing examining the Homeland Security Department’s screening programs. Instituted after 9/11, when federal officials discovered that some of the hijackers learned to fly at U.S. flight schools, these security checks were intended to prevent terrorists from enrolling in such flight training programs. However, officials have not required the same screening of American citizens.
This means that a convicted felon can walk into a flight school, enroll in a training program, and learn to fly a plane. So can an individual with a documented history of violence or mental instability. In addition, the Government Accountability Office found that the TSA screening program still allows foreign nationals in the country illegally to enroll in flight school. In 2010, Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents discovered eight individuals at a Boston flight school, screened by the TSA, were in the country illegally. Seventeen had remained in the U.S. longer than allowed.
The government does require screening, including criminal background checks, for anyone, citizen or foreign national, applying for a pilot’s license. However, these individuals may still learn to fly a plane. If they intend to do so in order to perpetrate a crime, it’s logical to assume they won’t mind flying without a license. Fortunately, Representative Bennie G. Thompson, Mississippi Democrat, in response to the GAO report, has sponsored House legislation intended to strengthen the screening process of everyone enrolling in the country’s flight schools.
Conducting criminal background checks on all flight school applicants should not be cost prohibitive –even for the smallest of schools. Companies such as Advanced Research Systems provide comprehensive criminal background checks at prices affordable for any business. Searches are completed quickly and efficiently, before the flight school application is approved, preventing anyone with a questionable record from obtaining the knowledge necessary to wield an aircraft as a deadly weapon.
Regardless of the outcome of Thompson’s legislation, we encourage all business owners, including those running flight schools, to protect themselves from potential lawsuits arising from the failure to conduct criminal background checks on all employees and students prior to hire or acceptance. To learn more about the screening services available from ARS, visit our website at www.arsbackgrounds.com.