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A whole new era of flight training???


Well-known member
Mar 23, 2002
Total Time
Flight Schools See Downside to Crackdown
Mon May 27, 2:56 PM ET

The security crackdown meant to keep terrorist hijackers out of American flight schools has forced thousands of foreign students to train overseas, weakening the country's global dominance in aviation training, officials in the industry say.

• F.B.I. Inaction Blurred Picture Before Sept. 11
• Flight Schools See Downside to Crackdown
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That shift, they warn, could ultimately mean greater risks for air travelers, because American flight schools are the main source of well-trained commercial pilots for foreign airlines.

"The United States has always made most of the aircraft in use around the world, we produce most of the instructors and we train most of the pilots," said Joseph E. Burnside, vice president for government and industry affairs of the National Air Transportation Association, the trade organization for the general aviation industry. "But now we're concerned that we may be losing that market."

"If the government doesn't get its act together, students are going to begin training overseas, and that training will be of lesser quality than they would receive in the United States," Mr. Burnside argued. "There will be an impact on aviation safety worldwide."

Government officials defend the sharpened scrutiny of foreign flight students as a long-overdue effort to rein in a sprawling, loosely regulated system that was easily exploited by the Sept. 11 hijackers, a third of whom trained at American flight schools.

For years, many foreign airlines have sent their pilots to the United States for refresher courses, alongside thousands of international students. The hijackers took the same course, moving from one small training center to another around the country and taking advantage of the breadth and anonymity of the American flight-school system.

After the September attacks, Congress imposed new restrictions requiring background checks of many foreigners studying at flight schools here, and immigration officials tightened visa requirements. But the White House has not yet agreed to the background check procedures, and the Justice Department (news - web sites), meanwhile, is refusing to let most foreign students or pilots train to fly business jets or airliners.

As a result, according to flight schools and aviation universities around the country, thousands of foreign students who would normally be studying here are learning to fly overseas. Several international airlines have moved their training offshore. Many of the students now being diverted to schools abroad are not those entering as individuals, as the Sept. 11 hijackers did, but employees of well-established airlines who have legitimate careers in aviation.

Several flight schools that catered to overseas students have closed, and most of the largest have laid off employees.

Representative John L. Mica, a Florida Republican who is chairman of the House aviation subcommittee, acknowledged that the Bush administration was taking much longer than expected to write the rules requiring background checks for foreign student pilots, a delay that is holding up the careers of many pilots and driving them overseas. That could backfire on the United States, he said, if pilots get licenses in other countries with no background checks.

"Because the process still isn't in place yet, we know that foreign students who have always come here to study are now going to European schools and elsewhere," Mr. Mica said. "That could make the situation even worse, because if they fly into the United States without any review, we have the risk of people subverting the whole process we've set up."

He said that he hoped to persuade international aviation officials to adopt background standards similar to those in the United States, but that it might be several years before the process was sufficiently smooth here to lure the foreign students back.

A spokesman for the White House Office of Management and Budget, which is holding up the background checks called for in the Transportation Security Act, said the delay was the result of careful review. "We don't just rubber-stamp rules from the agencies," said the spokesman, Trent Duffy, referring to the Justice Department. "This is a very significant rule, and rigorous regulatory review is a hallmark of the Bush administration."

Another government official said the Justice Department was simply not ready to study the backgrounds of every foreign flight student.

Bad for Business

In the midst of the administration's internal debate a few weeks ago, China Southern Airlines, the largest carrier in China, decided to train 150 of its pilots in Perth, Australia, instead of Arizona, canceling a $6 million contract with the International Airline Training Academy in Glendale, Ariz.

Jean-Marc Eloy, the school's owner, had already lost more than half of his international flight students since Sept. 11 and laid off seven instructors. As a consultant to China Southern, Mr. Eloy flew to Perth after the airline's decision, and was surprised to discover a number of new flight academies that have sprung up recently in Australia, along with a bevy of students who would otherwise be in the United States.

"It's killing the flight-training industry in the United States, this overreaction to Sept. 11," Mr. Eloy said. "These regulations are discouraging students from coming here, and everyone is wondering whether there's going to be even more regulation. And it's really a shame, because this is where pilots get the best training."

In January, Emirates Airline, the air carrier of the United Arab Emirates, announced it would not renew a $1 million contract to train its pilots at Western Michigan University's College of Aviation in Battle Creek. School officials said the company felt uncomfortable training in the United States after the F.B.I. investigated its pilots. A spokesman for the airline said its pilots would now be training in Australia.

For proponents of the new restrictions, the reduction in the number of foreign students is simply a byproduct of imposing a scrutiny that was lacking before September. At least 6 of the 19 hijackers are believed to have studied at American flight schools and aircraft simulators, honing the skills that allowed them to aim their planes at the World Trade Center and the Pentagon (news - web sites). Zacarias Moussaoui, accused of training to become the 20th hijacker, also studied at American flight schools.

The ease with which they blended in exposed the vulnerability of both the nation's visa system and its lack of scrutiny of student pilots.

"Given the looseness of the system prior to Sept. 11, everyone agreed that we needed a tightening of the application procedures for flight schools," Congressman Mica said.

After an outcry from many elected officials, the Immigration and Naturalization Service imposed new rules last month that prohibit foreigners from becoming students while on tourist visas, the most easily obtainable entry stamp. At least 9 of the 19 hijackers were in the United States on tourist visas, according to I.N.S. records, while two others were admitted on student visas.

Mohamed Atta, the man believed to be the hijackers' leader, entered the country on June 3, 2000, on a tourist visa. That September he asked to change to a student visa so that he could attend flight school, according to the immigration service. He began taking classes while his request was pending, a common practice among foreign students that was then permitted under immigration law.

But under the new rules, schools and colleges cannot admit foreigners carrying tourist visas. A school that does so, including a small flight school, can lose its right to admit any foreign students, according to Russ Bergeron, a spokesman for the immigration service. The service will consider changing a tourist visa to a student visa, but only if the prospective student had announced an intention to study when applying for the tourist visa.

In November, even before the visa rules were changed for all foreign students, Congress acted to increase the scrutiny of foreign pilots studying here. The new transportation security law contains a provision requiring flight schools to report to the Justice Department any student training to fly a plane weighing at least 12,500 pounds, a weight level that includes most business jets and airliners. After conducting a background check, the Justice Department can prohibit a foreign student from learning to fly such planes.


Well-known member
Mar 23, 2002
Total Time
The weight limit was included after lobbying by the aviation industry and flight schools, which argued that light planes did not pose a significant threat to national security. Even now, the Federal Aviation Administration (news - web sites) acknowledges that it has no way to know who is studying to fly a light plane with the nation's 82,000 certified flight instructors, up to the point when a student applies with the agency for permission to fly solo.

On Friday, however, the F.B.I. issued an alert about light planes, saying it had received information that terrorists might still be interested in using them for suicide attacks. The alert asked pilots and instructors to remain alert for suspicious activity.

Because the federal legislation did not affect light planes, many state legislators have said that Washington did not go far enough. In more than a dozen states, legislators have proposed laws that would impose further restrictions on student pilots or carefully check their backgrounds.

Students in Limbo

Federal officials say the rules are designed to prevent the abuse of the training system that taught the hijackers how to aim their jetliners at American landmarks.

"The United States of America will not allow our welcome to be abused by those who disguise themselves and their intentions," Attorney General John Ashcroft (news - web sites) said a few days ago in Washington, announcing the visa changes and a new computer system to track foreign students in this country.

But many in the nation's general aviation industry, which has lobbied hard to protect the lucrative practice of teaching foreigners how to fly, are angry that the government has no procedures yet for checking the backgrounds of foreign student pilots. While the Office of Management and Budget is studying the procedure, the Justice Department will not allow foreign students to fly business jets or practice in jetliner simulators, and hundreds of students who have paid money for courses are in a kind of educational limbo.

"Our seniors would normally be training in commercial aircraft simulators, but we can't let the foreign students use them," said Jeffrey Ledewitz, vice president for government relations at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, the world's largest aviation college, which has campuses in Daytona Beach, Fla., and Prescott, Ariz. "We don't have any problem with background checks, but these regulations are taking so long that students can't complete their education. We're concerned that with all these barriers, pilots may decide to study in other countries that don't have the same level of safety that we do."

Most flight training in the United States takes place at 474 flight schools and 81 larger training centers, which range from mom-and-pop operations at windswept rural airfields to the sprawling campuses of Embry-Riddle, Flight Safety International and Pan Am International Flight Academy.

The schools most affected by the loss of foreign students are those in Florida, the Gulf Coast and the Southwest, where the weather is usually ideal for flying and the air traffic is not congested. Many of those most affected, in fact, are schools where the hijackers themselves trained, hoping to blend in with the international student body.

A Special Category of Threat

At the Florida Flight Training Center which trained Ziad al-Jarrah, who crashed United Flight 93 into a Pennsylvania field business has dropped by half since September, said the owner, Arne Kruithof. About 80 percent of the students at the school, a small operation in Venice, Fla., were foreign, mostly European, South American and Middle Eastern.

"The Arab business is completely gone," Mr. Kruithof said, blaming the new visa requirements for the decline in his business. "Once a 20-year-old German or Dutch citizen spends seven hours being interrogated by the I.N.S. and then sent back to Europe because they are here to fly with only a tourist visa, they probably won't come back."

Many of the small flight schools have objected to the notion that they should check the visas and backgrounds of their trainees. Owners frequently note with derision that truck-driving schools do not get the same level of scrutiny, even though a truck was used in the Oklahoma City bombing.

But government officials have made it clear at all levels that they consider planes to be a special category of threat, and they cite the ease with which the hijackers moved from school to school while preparing for their attacks.

In July 2000, for example, Mohamed Atta attended the Airman Flight School in Norman, Okla., along with Marwan al-Shehhi, pilot of the plane that hit the south tower of the World Trade Center. The two men later moved to Jones Aviation in Sarasota, Fla., and then to Huffman Aviation in Venice, Fla.

By the end of 2000, each of them had logged 300 hours of flight time and trained on a 727 simulator at the SimCenter school near Miami, where an instructor said they knew enough to maneuver an airliner in flight.

By February, the two had moved to Georgia, where they took some practice flights with an instructor in a single-engine plane they rented at Briscoe Field, near Lawrenceville.

Two other hijackers, Nawaq Alhazmi and Khalid al-Midhar, studied in May 2000 at Sorbi's Flying Club, a small flight school in a tiny office at Montgomery Field, an airport for light planes in eastern San Diego. Samuel R. Garza, an instructor at the school, said he gave them about a half-dozen ground training lessons in all and took them in the air twice, on May 5 and May 10, each time for about one hour. They flew in a Cessna 172 Skyhawk each time, even though they said they wanted to learn to fly Boeing jets, which they would eventually do when crashing one into the Pentagon.

"They had zero training before they got here, so I told them they had to learn a lot of other things first," Mr. Garza said.

Hani Hanjour, who was also aboard the Pentagon flight, studied at several Arizona flight schools beginning in 1996, including the large Pan Am academy in Phoenix in early 2001. He also trained with an instructor at Freeway Airport in Bowie, Md., a few weeks before the attack. Last spring, an instructor at the JetTech flight school in Phoenix, which is now defunct, called the Federal Aviation Administration to warn that Mr. Hanjour's skills were lacking; an agency inspector checked Mr. Hanjour's license but took no other action.

Fayez Ahmed, who was aboard the plane that hit the south tower, listed the Spartan School of Aeronautics in Tulsa, Okla., as his address, although the school said it had no record of him.

None of the hijackers appear to have attended either of the two biggest flight academies in Florida, Embry-Riddle and Flight Safety. Officials of both schools said their policies against admitting students on tourist visas might have discouraged the hijackers from attending.

Not a Popular Cause

Although flight schools are not happy about the federal restrictions, many state officials say Washington has not done enough. In 13 states, including New York, New Jersey and Connecticut, legislators have introduced measures to further scrutinize flight students or change licensing procedures. In Oklahoma, legislation has been introduced to ban all foreign students from learning to fly.

The only measures that have passed are in Michigan, where the state police must now check the backgrounds of all flight students, and in South Dakota, where a law now permits the state to issue photo identification cards to pilots. Aviation officials and flight schools have lobbied hard against all the state measures, arguing that only the federal government should be involved with air regulation.

In several states, legislators have withdrawn their bills at the request of pilot groups, but aviation instructors know that their reputation and their cause is not the nation's most popular at the moment.

Congressman Mica of Florida, who agreed to the airline industry's request that pilots of small planes be exempted from federal background checks and is generally known as a friend of the industry, nonetheless agrees that the aviation training industry has a rough few years ahead.

"It ain't pretty right now," he said. "We've still got a great reputation in this country, but right now we've got a lot of hiccups to get through before things get back to normal."


Well-known member
Nov 26, 2001
Total Time
Flight Training

Thanks for the post, Ali.

Interesting that schools have apparently sprung up in Australia. Just the same, consider it in terms of cost. The cost of training turns on the price of fuel. Fuel is still cheaper here than elsewhere. Accordingly, flight training is cheaper and more available here than anywhere, and I don't think the outlook is as grim as the article portrays.

In addition, airspace in much of the world is far more restricted than it is here (and we gripe about airspace restrictions), and that affects the availability of flight training.

There are still several foreign airlines who train their pilots here, at ATCA in Goodyear and IFTA in Bakersfield.

One final point, which the article did not mention, is the recession. Typically, when the economy is down, flight training is down. When the economy picks up, flight training will pick up.
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May 1, 2002
Total Time
the forgotten group

One thing that is never mentioned in all the talk about restrictions to "foriegn" pilots is the fact that there are a lot of people who are LEGAL PERMANENT RESIDENTS of this country who have also SERVED in the UNITED STATES ARMED FORCES and who are here legally, following the rules, who are denied career advancement because they can't train in a sim or an aircraft over 12,500 lbs.. It seems there are only two categories to fit in to. Born in the US or Terrorist. There are many people who have died for this country wearing a U.S. uniform and many who are out there now who are not citizens but who are no less loyal. Flame away. I am a Canadian who has worn the U.S. flag on my shoulder before and I would wear it agian and I would die wearing it if the government needed me to. I'm done venting. Thank you.


No One Special at all
Apr 28, 2002
Total Time
53 wks
That's interesting. I'm wearing the U.S. Flag on my shoulder right now.

Anybody got a problem with that, EH?

Interesting point, will I have a problem with sim training due my being born in Thunder Bay, ONT?

Jedi Nein