Concerned about possible security oversights by foreign airlines, the Federal Aviation Administration has proposed requiring carriers that land or take off in the United States to submit their security programs for review.
The FAA's proposal calls for the 111 foreign airlines operating flights into the United States to spell out their procedures, facilities and equipment used to ensure the safety of passengers and property on their planes against acts of criminal violence and air piracy.
The FAA is concerned that foreign airlines are not strict enough in making sure that all passengers who have checked in for a flight are on that flight, and that checked-through luggage for passengers who don't board the jets after checking in is off-loaded and put through another security check. Such luggage should only be reboarded after this extra check.
Airlines also are responsible for screening passengers and their luggage and making sure that a passenger's luggage ticket stub matches the one on the ticket. Security considerations, of course, have been strengthened in the past few years as a result of terrorism incidents, and airlines even have begun security checks during the reservation process when something suspicious appears.
U.S. Carriers Fined
The FAA recently fined some U.S. airlines, however, for slipshod security methods in preventing firearms from getting through the detection systems at some major American airports.
Foreign carriers landing or taking off in the United States must follow the same security rules as American airlines. Although the FAA can ask for information about the foreign airline's security programs, it doesn't have the right to reject or approve such programs.
Comments on the proposal should be sent by Nov. 7 to the Federal Aviation Administration, Office of the Chief Counsel, Docket No. 25690, 800 Independence Ave. S.W., Washington, D.C. 20591.
FAA Penalty Authority
In any case, carriers and individuals that break FAA rules may get swifter and more expensive retribution than in the past. Congress has granted the FAA more authority to impose civil penalties for breaking the rules. Previously, except for hazardous material violations, the FAA had to refer such matters to the courts for enforcement.
Until the end of 1989 the FAA can impose fines of up to $50,000 under its own aegis.
Authority for this "civil penalty assessment demonstration program" was provided by Congress because it was considered that the FAA's enforcement program could be damaged by the unwillingness or inability of U.S. attorneys to prosecute some FAA-referred cases.
"U.S attorneys might be reluctant to go to court about cases involving $1,000, or amounts of that magnitude," an FAA spokesman said. "These kinds of cases can clutter up an already busy court system."
Smoking Ban Enforcement
This new authority is expected to help the FAA enforce a variety of safety/security provisions, including the smoking ban on domestic flights of less than two hours. Under this rule the FAA can impose a maximum civil penalty of $1,000.
When a passenger is thought to have broken a rule the FAA sends a written notice to the traveler. The individual could request an informal conference, but if the passenger declined to pay the penalty or negotiate a settlement, the FAA has to turn the case over to a U.S. attorney.
The alleged offender has 30 days from receipt of the notice to respond. "People have three options," the FAA spokesman said. "First, they can pay the penalty, and that's the end of the matter. They can also submit a written answer asking us to withdraw the penalty, lessen it or explain why they might be unable to pay it. Or they can request an informal conference to discuss the matter in person."
If no response is filed within 30 days, the person will be considered guilty and fined.
Just an Allegation
The notice is just an allegation of an offense and a proposal of a fine, not an order to pay. Compromise is possible. Airlines often negotiate on fines levied against them by the FAA.
"Individuals who feel they haven't violated a rule should bring all the supporting evidence they have, especially any statements from witnesses," the FAA spokesman said. "It's important to provide any information that might, for example, be different from that provided by the flight crew."
Statements from witnesses don't have to be notarized, though notarization might carry more weight, the FAA spokesman said.
Once this notice procedure is completed the FAA will decide what action, if any, to take. If the penalty is upheld after this process, the individual has 10 days to appeal and request a formal administrative hearing with the FAA.
Last Appeal to FAA
If such a hearing before an administrative law judge goes against the individual, a last appeal can be made to the head of the FAA in Washington.