- The Washington Times - Friday, October 22, 2004


The federal government has begun conducting background checks on all foreigners seeking to attend U.S. flight schools, the Transportation Security Administration said yesterday.

The expanded security measures, aimed in part at preventing potential terrorists from taking pilot lessons here as some of the September 11 hijackers did, now apply to any foreigner seeking flight training in the United States, not just those learning to fly larger aircraft.

Those who want to attend flight school for a second time — for certification to fly a different classification of aircraft, for example — will need to have their backgrounds checked again.

Previously, only those training on aircraft weighing 12,500 pounds or more had their backgrounds checked.

“Fortifying security by knowing who trains at these schools is an integral part of our mission to secure the homeland,” said TSA chief David Stone, whose agency expanded the pool to include smaller aircraft on Wednesday.

The new rules follow the TSA’s takeover of the program from the Justice Department on Oct. 5. All foreign applicants, including certified pilots, will have to undergo TSA checks starting Dec. 19.

The Justice Department has said 30,000 foreigners applied to U.S. flight schools last year.

Terrorism suspect Zacarias Moussaoui, the only U.S. defendant accused of participating in the al-Qaeda September 11 plot, was arrested a month prior to the attacks when he aroused suspicions at a flight school. One of the September 11 hijackers rented small aircraft several times in the summer before the attacks for practice flights.

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