WASHINGTON — The federal government has begun conducting background checks on all foreigners seeking to attend U.S. flight schools, the Transportation Security Administration said Friday.
The expanded security measures, aimed in part at preventing potential terrorists from taking pilot lessons here as some of the Sept. 11 hijackers did, now apply to any foreigner seeking flight training in the United States, not just those learning to fly larger aircraft. As well, those who want to attend flight school for a second time -- for certification to fly a different classification of aircraft, for example -- will need to have their backgrounds checked again.
Previously, only those training on aircraft weighing 12,500 pounds or more had their backgrounds checked.
"Fortifying security by knowing who trains at these schools is an integral part of our mission to secure the homeland," said TSA chief David M. Stone.
The new rules follow the TSA's takeover of the program from the Justice Department on Oct. 5. All foreign applicants will have to undergo TSA checks starting Dec. 19.
The Justice Department has said 30,000 foreigners applied to U.S. flight schools last year.
Under the Justice Department program, they were required to provide fingerprints, passport and visa information and the type of training sought. Since the TSA took over, applicants have had to submit another set of fingerprints.
TSA's security checks do not apply to foreign students already in training or enrolled in flight schools.