- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 31, 2002


The government is making it harder for private pilots from foreign countries to get licenses to fly in the United States.

Until now, pilots with valid licenses even those from U.S.-designated terrorist nations such as Iraq, Libya and North Korea would automatically be granted U.S. licenses.

Those pilots will now be subjected to background checks and be required to show they understand written and spoken English.

However, foreign pilots will not need a U.S. certificate to fly into the United States. That means a private pilot from Canada or Mexico still can land at a U.S. airport without a U.S. certificate.

About 2,700 foreign pilots a year seek a U.S. certificate, said Warren Morningstar, a spokesman for the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association, which represent pilots of private planes. Many are tourists who want to travel across the United States by air, he said.

"It is certainly reasonable to do background checks on foreign nationals who might have motive and opportunity to do some damage in the United States," Mr. Morningstar said yesterday. "We also have to acknowledge that the added inconvenience is going to have a chilling effect. It's going to affect some perfectly innocent folks."

The Federal Aviation Administration has in the past automatically granted U.S. certificates to pilots from the 188 countries that are members of the United Nations aviation group, known as the International Civil Aviation Organization.

ICAO members include all seven nations cited by the State Department as sponsoring terrorism Cuba, Iran, Iraq, Libya, North Korean, Sudan and Syria.

To obtain a U.S. license, foreign pilots needed only to show licenses from their home countries. The system was much the same as someone moving across state lines and exchanging a valid driver's license for one issued by the new home state.

The U.S. pilot certificate makes it easier for foreigners to rent private planes.

FAA spokesman Les Dorr said the agency changed the rules in response to post-September 11 concerns that private planes could be used in much the same manner as the four hijacked commercial airliners.

Earlier this month, the government told owners and operators of private planes to bolster security because of concerns terrorists may try to use general-aviation aircraft to attack the United States.

Under the new rules, all foreign pilots must submit applications, including a photo ID, to the FAA. The agency will verify the identity of the applicant, check the name against various watch lists and make sure the foreign license is valid.

The Associated Press reported in May that officials of an Arizona flight school warned federal aviation officials that Hani Hanjour, one of the September 11 hijackers, did not understand English well enough to get a U.S. commercial pilot's license. But the FAA did not take any action.

Foreign pilots wishing to fly commercial planes must pass the appropriate tests after obtaining their U.S. certificate.

New Justice Department rules require companies that teach noncitizens to fly large planes to obtain special permission from the agency.

In addition, noncitizens seeking flight training must undergo criminal background checks and be fingerprinted.

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