NBAA Troubled by Delays in Background Checks for Flight Training of Foreign Nationals

Contact: Cassandra Bosco

Washington, DC, April 28, 2003 – In a letter last week to U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft, the National Business Aviation Association (NBAA) expressed deep concern regarding the process by which foreign nationals obtain permission for flight training in the United States. After September 11, 2001, Congress tasked the Department of Justice (DOJ) to develop processes and procedures for background checks of non-U.S. citizens seeking flight training in our country. According to the NBAA letter, “What was envisioned to be ‘due diligence’ to prevent U.S. companies from training terrorists has resulted in over $100 million in direct and indirect lost business. While NBAA supports the concept of background checks for aliens seeking flight training in the U.S., the procedure developed by DOJ encourages pilots to seek training in other countries. This does not support the national security interests of the United States.”

The U.S. flight-training industry is world renowned for its professionalism and quality of training. There are many U.S. companies providing flight-training services that have closed, severely downsized or reduced growth plans due to the loss of international customers. It seems as if little thought or priority has been given to the future of flight training in the United States.

“The process in place today even restricts our allies, such as Mexico, Canada, and the United Kingdom, from training pilots who transport their government’s leaders. Surely this is not what Congress intended,” said NBAA Senior Vice President, Government & Public Affairs Pete West. An even more egregious roadblock occurred on Thursday, April 17 when the computer used by the Foreign Terrorist Tracking Taskforce for expedited screening of foreign pilots crashed, effectively stopping any further processing. Several pilots from Brazil, in the United States for flight training and expecting an expedited clearance, were told to return home at considerable expense because no one at the DOJ knew how to fix the (since repaired) computer.

“Seventeen months after President Bush signed into law the requirement for background checks, we still do not have a responsive program,” West added. “We cannot afford to continue this complex, ineffective and unreliable program.” NBAA urges Ashcroft to work with the Association and the flight-training industry to address the critical technical background check requirements and help ensure maximum security for the United States while allowing U.S. allies worldwide to benefit by receiving flight training from American companies.

For more information, contact West at (202) 783-9260 or

NBAA represents the aviation interests of more than 7,300 companies that own or operate general aviation aircraft as an aid to the conduct of their business, or are involved with business aviation. NBAA Member Companies earn annual revenues approaching $5 trillion — a number that is about half the gross domestic product — and employ more than 19 million people worldwide. The NBAA Annual Meeting & Convention is the world’s largest display of civil aviation products and services.

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