It has come to the attention of the Transportation Department’s Inspector General that U.S. registries of pilots and aircraft contain incomplete data. This missing information could prove detrimental when it comes to screening for terrorists. The lack of information can also interfere with investigations of aviation accidents.
The report also illuminates the fact that data on approximately half of foreign-owned aircraft, registered with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), does not include critical required information, such as owner and address details. Louis King, assistant inspector general for financial and information technology audits, said that, “these data weaknesses largely stem from FAA’s lack of formal quality control procedures to regularly reassess the integrity of the registry’s data and information systems.”
Auditors also discovered 130 cases in which planes were registered multiple times to different entities, making it difficult to identify the actual owner. The U.S. registry contains 350,000 planes and helicopters, after all. “While this is a small number of discrepancies, the impact is potentially significant if a serious incident occurs and FAA is unable to identify the aircraft’s owner in a timely manner,” King said in the report. But, even though the number of discrepancies is relatively low, all it takes is one unchecked discrepancy in order for a disaster, such as a terrorist attack, to occur.
“FAA regulations allow only aircraft owned by US citizens or resident aliens to be registered in the US and bear US markings, the so-called N number used to identify US aircraft from foreign aircraft. However, there’s a loophole that allows foreign citizens to register their aircraft in the US and carry a US designator. The loophole allows aircraft to be owned by a trust and if the trust is a US trust with an American trustee, the actual owner (beneficiary) can be of any nationality in the world. This allows non-U.S. citizens to have their aircraft registered on FAA’s Registry and bear US markings. As long as the trust meets US citizenship requirements, the FAA does not look beyond that to citizenship of the beneficiaries (e.g. foreign owners).”
When non-U.S. citizens register aircraft with the FAA, under a trust, the owner of the trust and the operator of the aircraft must be identified. It is estimated, by the auditors, that 5,600 of 10,292 foreign-owned aircraft registered by the FAA lack that information. This constitutes 54% of foreign-owned aircraft which, not surprisingly, has led to cases in which the FAA was unable to identify an aircraft’s owner following an accident or other incident. Additionally, the FAA has granted pilot licenses to more than 43,000 people who failed to provide a permanent address. Instead, the report found, businesses or flight schools were used as addresses.
Disturbingly, the IG’s report echoes the conclusions arrived at by a report conducted by the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) last year. The GAO found that some of the 26,000 non-U.S. citizens who received pilot licenses had not been vetted by the TSA as required.
This situation is further compounded by the Obama administration’s recent move to sign an “Open Skies” agreement with Saudi Arabia. Soon, the Saudis will have “unrestricted” access to U.S. airspace, according to the U.S. State Department website:
“The United States-Saudi Arabia Open Skies agreement will, following a transition period, permit unrestricted air service by the airlines of both countries between and beyond the other’s territory, eliminating restrictions on how often the carriers fly, the kind of aircraft they use and the prices they charge. This agreement will allow for the strengthening and expansion of our strong trade and tourism links with Saudi Arabia, benefitting U.S. and Saudi Arabian businesses and travelers by expanding opportunities for air services and encouraging vigorous price competition by airlines, while preserving our commitments to aviation safety and security. …”
The agreement, in essence, means Saudi airlines may fly from any point in the kingdom to any point in the United States. And, U.S. airlines may fly from any point in the U.S. to any airport in Saudi Arabia. This access is unrestricted. Not everyone is comfortable with this agreement since it is well established that the chief financier of terrorist groups, such as al Qaeda, for the past 3 decades are Saudi Arabia and Qatar. And, of course, 15 of the 19 men who hijacked and crashed American planes on September 11, 2001 were Saudis.
“Diplomats said the administration of President Barack Obama has removed most restrictions on the entry of Saudis to the United States. They said the percentage of visa approvals for Saudis has reached unprecedented levels.
‘The United States aims to raise the number of visas that it issues annually, particularly to Saudi nationals, who represent an important group,’ Joseph Hood, U.S. consul-general in the Saudi city of Dhahran, said.”
The federal government’s claim that the extensive surveillance conducted by the NSA is necessary for national security is inconsistent with many of its other actions, including the FAA screening process and the failure to acknowledge the potential risks entering the country from Saudi Arabia.