The Board of Supervisors on Wednesday adopted regulations requiring flight schools and independent instructors that teach foreign flight students and operate at San Diego County airports to annually certify compliance with federal screening and vetting procedures.

Operators who lease or sublease county property will now be required to sign a statement each fiscal year stating that guidelines for screening and monitoring foreign flight students are being followed to the best of their knowledge.

San Diego County Administration Center in downtown San Diego. Photo courtesy San Diego County.

Violations of the ordinance could result in warnings, citations or schools being denied the use of county airports.

The ordinance was based on a 2012 U.S. General Accounting Office report that concluded the federal government did not adequately monitor foreign flight students’ that foreign nationals were applying for flight certificates with the Federal Aviation Administration without being properly vetted; and that there was little coordination between the Transportation Security Administration and immigration officials.

The first two 9/11 hijackers to arrive in the United States — Khalid al- Mihdhar and Nawaf al-Hazmi — settled in San Diego in January 2000 and took flight lessons at Montgomery Field, and hijacker-pilot Hani Hanjour arrived in December of that year.

“Almost 13 years ago was 9/11 — almost 13 years ago, and still, as we sit here today, the problems that were raised in the GAO report are not resolved,” said Chairwoman Dianne Jacob.

The county ordinance would require flight schools and instructors to confirm they are following the law, but does not undermine federal authority. The county’s Department of Public Works also would work to encourage instructors who train non-U.S. citizens to get TSA and U.S. Customs Immigration Enforcement training on federal requirements for foreign flight students.

Supervisor Greg Cox said he was not interested in creating “onerous regulations.”

“I think the county has an obligation to make sure that people who are running these schools are in compliance with federal regulations,” Cox said.

The ordinance was passed despite opposition from several members of the aviation community.

Tom Hannawa, owner of American Aviation Academy at Gillespie Field, said the ordinance would not be enforced equally for schools known to county staff and independent operators, who are required to self-report.

“If I’m a truly concerned citizen about aviation security, relying on the integrity of individuals to self-report would not comfort me,” Hannawa said.

Advisory committees at three of the eight affected airfields — the Fallbrook Airpark, Gillespie Field and McClellan-Palomar Airport — each voted unanimously against the ordinance at meetings in November.

Barry Bardack of the Gillespie Field Development Council said the ordinance does not add security, but instead discourages flight schools at county-run airports.

“Targeting flight schools is unwarranted,” Bardack said. “Any concerns about federal procedures must be and should be addressed at the federal level.”

Staffers will review the ordinance after a year, and will step up advocacy at the federal level.

—City News Service

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