Gregory J. Reigel
Serving clients throughout the U.S.
Tel (214) 780-1482

[Top Background]
Guarding The Gate: Flight Instructors Duties Under TSA’s Alien Flight Training/Citizenship Validation Rule

By Gregory J. Reigel

© 2005 All rights reserved.

If you are a Certified Flight Instructor (“CFI”) and you have wanted to somehow contribute to post-9/11 aviation security, now is your chance. Even if such a desire wasn’t high on the priority list, unfortunately, CFI’s no longer have a choice. Under the new Transportation Security Administration (“TSA”) Alien Flight Training Rule, CFI’s now have a legal responsibility to confirm whether their students are U.S. Citizens and to follow additional security procedures if their students are citizens of a country other than the U.S.

Background On The Rule

On September 21, 2004, the FAA published its Interim Final Rule on alien flight training/citizenship validation. The interim rule went into effective that day. Under the Interim Rule, every person undertaking flight training for the issuance of a new certificate or rating or the addition of a new certificate or rating in an aircraft weighing 12,500 pounds or less must prove his or her citizenship status. This includes foreign students as well as U.S. Citizens. Foreign students are required to complete a background check with the TSA. The interim rule transferred the responsibility for these background checks from the Department of Justice to the Department of Homeland Security and the TSA.

Additionally, the Interim Rule requires flight schools and flight instructors to provide security awareness training to each ground and flight instructor and any other employee who has direct contact with a flight school student and to maintain records of the training received by the student, regardless of the student’s nationality.

"Flight school employee” includes individual flight instructors or ground instructors, certificated under 14 CFR parts 61, 141, or 142, or any other employee of a flight school, independent contractor, or other employee that has direct contact with flight students, whether U.S citizens or foreign nationals. New instructors and flight school employees must complete the training within 60 days of starting employment.

A subsequent Interpretation issued by the TSA clarified that "flight training" in aircraft with a Maximum Take-Off Weight (MTOW) of less than 12,500 lbs. only applies to training for a recreational, sport pilot, private pilot certificate, a multiengine rating, or instrument rating. “Flight training" does not include ground training, recurrent training such as flight reviews, proficiency checks, or other checks whose purpose is to review rules, maneuvers, or procedures, or to demonstrate a pilot's existing skills.

Flight schools providing instruction in aircraft weighing in excess of 12,500 lbs. were required to comply with the rule by October 5, 2004. Flight schools providing instruction in aircraft weighing 12,500 lbs. or less were required to comply with the rule by October 20, 2004.

What This Means To Flight Instructors

If you are a flight instructor what does this rule mean to you? Well, initially it means that you must have completed the initial security awareness training as required by January 18, 2005. The training is required even if you do not have any contact with foreign students. Although the deadline has past, the FAA has indicated that it is more concerned about compliance at this point in time, rather than enforcement. At least in the short term, it appears that the FAA is willing to give flight instructors some leeway to complete the training. However, this isn’t to say that the FAA will not take enforcement action against a flight instructor who fails to take the security awareness training and continues to provide flight instruction. Diligence in completing the training as soon as possible is highly recommended.

Also, you should be aware that some flight instructors have had problems printing the TSA’s training certificate of completion. If you find yourself in this situation, the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association has forms you can use depending upon whether you are an independent CFI or a CFI/employee of a flight school. Additionally, if you still have problems, you may also make an endorsement in your logbook, using the same language as the certificate of completion, to show your compliance with the security awareness training requirement.

Next, prior to beginning any primary, instrument or multi-engine training with a student, you will need to confirm the citizenship of your flight training student by seeing the trainee's current, valid US Passport or certificate of birth or naturalization. If the student is not a U.S. citizen, the student will need to show that he or she has received TSA clearance to begin the training. You will then need to keep a copy of the citizenship proof document in your file for five years, or you may make a log entry including the passport or certificate number attesting to having checked and confirmed US citizenship in both the student's logbook and your logbook. Finally, if you do provide primary, instrument or multi-engine training to a foreign student, you must register with the TSA through your local FSDO office.

For better or worse, CFI’s have been enlisted to assist with homeland security. Whether this is correct, justified or proper are issues left for another day. Unfortunately, in the meantime failure to fulfill this obligation could subject a CFI to FAA enforcement action. And none of us want that!

The information contained in this web-site is intended for the education and benefit of those visiting the Aero Legal Services site. The information should not be relied upon as advice to help you with your specific issue. Each case is unique and must be analyzed by an attorney licensed to practice in your area with respect to the particular facts and applicable current law before any advice can be given. Sending an e-mail to Aero Legal Services or Gregory J. Reigel does not create an attorney-client relationship. Advice will not be given by e-mail until an attorney-client relationship has been established.

© Gregory J. Reigel-Aero Legal Services 2002-Present. All rights reserved.