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Flight School Security Awareness Training – Make Sure You Are Both Current And Compliant To Avoid TSA Sanctions

By Gregory J. Reigel

© October, 2017 All rights reserved.

If you are a flight school you know, or at least you should know, that you are required to have a TSA Security Awareness Training Program. But are you implementing the program correctly and staying compliant with the regulations? If you aren’t sure, read on.

Who Is Required To Take The Training?

TSA Regulations found at 49 C.F.R. 1552.21-25 require a flight school to provide certain security awareness training to its instructors, ground instructors, chief instructor, director of training, and any other person employed by the flight school, including an independent contractor, who have direct contact with a flight school student (each of these employees or independent contractors is a “Flight School Employee”). Flight Schools must provide both initial training and recurrent training.

“Flight school” is defined broadly to include “any pilot school, flight training center, air carrier flight training center, or flight instructor certificated under 14 CFR part 61, 121, 135, 141, 142; or any other person or entity that provides instruction under 49 U.S.C. Subtitle VII, Part A. in the operation of any aircraft or aircraft simulator.” So, it is important to understand that these regulations apply not only to traditional flight schools and flight training facilities, but also to individual flight instructors.

When Must The Flight School Employee Complete The Training?

Section 1552.23(b) requires each Flight School Employee to complete initial training within 60 days of being hired. And under Section 1552.23(d)(1) a Flight School Employee must receive recurrent security awareness training annually in the same month as the month he or she received initial security awareness training. However, the TSA issued an Exemption that allows the recurrent training to be accomplished within one (1) calendar month before and one (1) calendar month after the month in which the Flight School Employee’s recurrent training is due.

What Is Required For Initial Training?

Initial training may be received through a course such as AOPA’s online course, or the flight school may provide the training through its own alternative initial security awareness training program. If the latter, then Section 1552.23(c) states the training must include (1) situational scenarios requiring the Flight School Employee to assess specific situations and determine appropriate courses of action, as well as (2) information that enables a Flight School Employee to identify:
  1. Uniforms and other identification, if any are required at the flight school, for Flight School Employees or other persons authorized to be on the flight school grounds;

  2. Behavior by flight school clients and customers that may be considered suspicious, including, but not limited to:

    • Excessive or unusual interest in restricted airspace or restricted ground structures;

    • Unusual questions or interest regarding aircraft capabilities;

    • Aeronautical knowledge inconsistent with the client or customer's existing airman credentialing; and

    • Sudden termination of the client or customer's instruction.

  3. Behavior by other on-site persons that may be considered suspicious, including, but not limited to:

    • Loitering on the flight school grounds for extended periods of time; and

    • Entering “authorized access only” areas without permission.

  4. Circumstances regarding aircraft that may be considered suspicious, including, but not limited to:

    • Unusual modifications to aircraft, such as the strengthening of landing gear, changes to the tail number, or stripping of the aircraft of seating or equipment;

    • Damage to propeller locks or other parts of an aircraft that is inconsistent with the pilot training or aircraft flight log; and

    • Dangerous or hazardous cargo loaded into an aircraft.

  5. Appropriate responses for the employee to specific situations, including:

    • Taking no action, if a situation does not warrant action;

    • Questioning an individual, if his or her behavior may be considered suspicious;

    • Informing a supervisor, if a situation or an individual's behavior warrants further investigation;

    • Calling the TSA General Aviation Hotline; or

    • Calling local law enforcement, if a situation or an individual's behavior could pose an immediate threat.

  6. Any other information relevant to security measures or procedures at the flight school, including applicable information in the TSA Information Publication "Security Guidelines for General Aviation Airports".

What Is Required For Recurrent Training?

According to Section 1552.23(d), the recurrent security awareness training program must, at a minimum, contain information regarding
  1. Any new security measures or procedures implemented by the flight school;

  2. Any security incidents at the flight school, and any lessons learned as a result of such incidents;

  3. Any new threats posed by or incidents involving general aviation aircraft contained on the TSA Web site (which is somewhat ironic to me since the TSA isn’t particularly great about providing the general aviation community, or others for that matter, with compliance guidance and information); and

  4. Any new TSA guidelines or recommendations concerning the security of general aviation aircraft, airports, or flight schools (also ironic, as discussed in the previous point).

However, to its credit, TSA has issued separate guidance providing further explanation of what should be included in the flight school’s recurrent training program. This is fortunate, because the generic statements within the regulation provide very little information as to what should be included in the training to address these points. The guidance is actually very helpful in explaining what should be addressed in each component of the recurrent training program. Unfortunately, the guidance isn’t readily available on its website. But, you can review the guidance here.

It is also useful and helpful to prepare an annual recurrent training document so flight schools can show what was included in each year’s recurrent training. This way the flight school can also identify any new or changed items included in that year’s recurrent training as required by the regulation.

What Documents and Records Must The Flight School Keep?

Flight schools are required to issue a “document” to each Flight School Employee when the Flight School Employee receives initial training and each time he or she receives recurrent training. Section 1552.25(a) requires that the “document”:
  1. Contain the Flight school Employee's name and a distinct identification number (e.g. an employee number);

  2. Indicate the date on which the Flight School Employee received the security awareness training;

  3. Contain the name of the instructor who conducted the training, if any;

  4. Contain a statement certifying that the flight School Employee received the security awareness training;

  5. Indicate whether the training received was initial or recurrent;

  6. If the flight school uses an alternative training program the document must include a statement certifying that the alternative training program meets the criteria in Section 1552.23(c); and

  7. Be signed by the Flight School Employee and an authorized official of the flight school (these two signatures should be clearly distinguishable and separate).

The regulations do not specify what format the “document” must be in. Rather, it only specifies the information that must be included in the document. So, flight schools are free to design their own form document, or an example form is included in the TSA’s recurrent training guidance.

Flight schools must keep a copy of each document for each Flight School Employee, whether for initial or recurrent training, while the Flight School Employee remains a Flight School Employee and for a period of one (1) year after he or she is no longer a Flight School Employee. The flight school must also keep a copy of its alternative flight school security awareness training program if it uses such a program. And the flight school must allow the TSA and FAA to inspect the training and program documents.

Flight schools should maintain the program and training documents in a file or binder that is separate from any other training or employment records for the Flight School Employees. Although it results in the use of more paper, when it comes time to respond to a TSA audit, this method enables the flight school to simply produce the file or binder without having to sort through other files or records, and without producing more than is necessary or required.

As mentioned above, a flight school must permit TSA and the Federal Aviation Administration to inspect the records during normal business hours. Typically the TSA inspects these records on an annual basis, although the regulation does not set any limit as to how often these inspections may occur. When a flight school receives notice of an audit, it should review the file or binder containing the program and training records to ensure not only that the required documents are included, but to also purge any documents that are older than those required to be kept per the regulation.

What Are The Risks On Non-Compliance?

So, what happens if the flight school does not provide the required training or fails to create and maintain the necessary documentation to show its compliance with the regulations? Well, the TSA has the authority so assess civil penalties for violation of the regulations. The amount of the civil penalty will depend upon a variety of factors set out in TSA’s Enforcement Sanction Guidance Policy including the type of violation, the number of instances of violation, and whether any aggravating or mitigating circumstances are present. TSA may impose civil penalties against individuals and flight schools up to $11,000 per violation.


Flight schools and flight instructors need to be aware of the TSA’s Security Awareness Training Program regulations and ensure they understand and comply with those requirements. If they don’t the consequences could be expensive. If you have questions about the regulations or program requirements, please set up a consultation so we can make sure you stay in compliance.

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