WASHINGTON – U.S. citizens who are considered a terror threat and banned from flying on passenger airplanes can nonetheless learn to fly without hindrance, a glaring loophole that emerged during a congressional hearing Wednesday into security lapses at the nation’s 935 accredited flight schools.
“I’m shocked to hear that someone on the no-fly list can be approved for flight lessons,” said Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Ala.), a member of the House Homeland Security Committee. “It is mind-blowing.”
U.S. citizens are screened against terrorism databases only after flight training, when they apply for a pilot’s license. More than 550 U.S. citizens are on the no-fly list, a database that is kept by the FBI’s Terrorist Screening Center.
After the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, when Al Qaeda terrorists who had attended flight schools in Florida, Arizona and Minnesota intentionally crashed jetliners into the World Trade Center in New York, the Pentagon and a field in Pennsylvania, security checks were added for people coming to the United States to enroll in flight schools. But those checks were never extended to U.S. citizens despite growing concerns in recent years about so-called “homegrown” terrorists launching attacks on U.S. soil.
U.S. flight schools are generally less expensive and more rigorous than those in other countries, and often enroll a large number of foreign students each year. About 30% of students enrolled in flight classes in the U.S. are foreign nationals.