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Aircraft Owners' and Pilots' Association (AOPA): "If INS Can't Stop Terrorists, How Can Flight Schools?!"
by Jose Latour

I've told you guys before that the absolutely coolest member card in my wallet is the NARAS card with which I get to vote on the Grammys. Well, the second coolest is my FAA airman's certificate (pilot's license), and the third is a tie between my AOPA member card and my PADI dive card...that's a tough call. (Not sure if my better moments are way up in the air or way down underwater, but I'm quite certain they are not on land, I can tell you that much with a fair degree of certainty.)

The AOPA is our national private pilots' association -- pretty much the lobby group for what we call "general aviation" (in contrast to commercial aviation). What many folks don't realize is that the U.S. and Canada are probably the only two countries on the planet where middle class folks can actually afford to realize their dreams of learning to fly and actually owning their own personal aircraft. Why? Well, a number of reasons:

  • Flight training is affordable.

  • We have a thriving used aircraft market, at affordable prices, with excellent parts and service support.

  • We have banks willing to finance used aircraft.

  • An experimental and home-built aircraft market allows creative types to fly pretty much anything they can invent.

  • Our insurance industry has found an affordable way to insure private aircraft.

  • Our fuel costs are affordable.

  • We have a great, big nation with lots of cool places to visit, tons of available airspace, and many interesting little airports to explore.

  • We have the best, bar none, air traffic control system on the planet.

AOPA lobbies for things like keeping rural airports open (when neighbors complain about the sound of airplane engines; airplane noise is symphonic to a pilot's ears! (-:), better access to FAA support for us little guys (who outnumber commercial pilots a zillion to one) and, perhaps most importantly, favorable growth for flight training. Obviously, that last goal -- keeping flight schools strong and growing -- is self serving. After all, who will be tomorrow's generation of AOPA members once our generation of Flying Geezers has passed on to the wild blue yonder?

But besides keeping the membership coffers and the slush fund box full, there are very sound reasons for that objective. The truth is that the aviation training industry in the United States is a huge, multimillion dollar industry employing tens of thousands of individuals ranging from the tiniest "ma and pa" flight schools -- like Kitty Hawke Aviation in beautiful Archer, Florida, the lovely grass strip where Frank Ogborn taught Yours Truly how to stay aloft and where I am currently pursuing my instrument training -- to colossal, world-recognized institutions like Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University. In addition to training first-time U.S. and legitimate foreign pilots -- remember, those September pigs represented a microscopic fraction of the percentage of the thousands of wonderful international students who come to America annually to spend tens of thousands of dollars on the coveted FAA-ratings -- as well as seasoned international commercial pilots who have been safely landing jumbo jets for decades but just want the added prestige of a U.S. license on their resume and come spend a month in the U.S.(and a few thousand dollars) for the privilege. The U.S. flight training industry is a CRITICAL, important part of our national economy. Shut it down and THOUSANDS of jobs will be lost overnight.

The AOPA has been very much in the forefront of the discussion regarding the legislation emerging nationwide as states have attempted to tell their flight schools how to regulate who gets flight training and how. AOPA's position from day one has been "HOW can a flight school possibly police the legal status of those in training?"

After the fiasco involving the six-months-later approval of Atta's and what's-his-name's M-1 visa changes, it sure looks like AOPA's position has been pretty much confirmed. In their March 13 press release, AOPA Senior Vice President of Government and Technical Affairs Andy Cebula said:

"If the federal government's own background checks leads to the issuing of visas to dead terrorists, then how in the world can individual flight schools be expected to ferret out the bad guys?"

Er, well, Andy, I agree with your conclusion, bud, but the underlying mind...

Bottom line is this. INS is auditing a ton of flight schools for I-9s, as if these schools were not only possibly training illegal aliens but then having them instruct other illegal aliens. It may have happened but it's hardly an epidemic, guys. The truth is this:

  • The problem lies at the border and at the airports.

  • Give INS the resources they need (meaning the money to adequately train and staff) and the interagency information they need and they can secure both the borders and the airports, as well as get rid of the contractors and adjudicate cases themselves.

  • The slew of legislation pending all over the country and directed at forcing flight schools to police their clients makes about as much sense as it would to force ANY OTHER SCHOOL to conduct background checks on THEIR students before allowing them to change status. What's next? A terrorist cooking school student who poisons masses at the Macaroni Grill?

If you'd like to see the ridiculous rooster-strutting dance going on nationwide as the politicians propose absurd legislation to try and show their local communities that, dammit, they're doing something (no matter how idiotic) about September 11th, go to and look for the "State Legislative Update" section. If it weren't for real, it'd be a hoot.

Have a great weekend, guys, and never take your freedom for granted because someone out there always thinks they have a better idea.

About The Author

Jose Latour is the founding partner of Latour & Lleras, P.A., a Gainesville, Florida based business immigration practice working primarily with the IT industry and foreign investors. JELPA is an A/V rated firm whose web site,, is one of the Internet’s most visited immigration sites. The firm was named “ONE OF AMERICA’S TOP TEN INTERNET/VIRTUAL COMPANIES” in the 1999 Inc. Magazine and Cisco Systems “Growing with Technology Awards.” Mr. Latour served as a U.S. Diplomatic and Consular Officer in Mexico and Africa before entering private practice and today divides his time between his law practice, writing, flying, and his music.

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