Flight school security hole remains a decade after 9/11, report finds
The security hole was first exposed by the 9/11 hijackers. Investigators learned that, shortly before the attacks, three of the four al Qaeda pilots had taken flying lessons at U.S. flight schools.
Eleven years later, that vulnerability remains. A new government investigation reveals that between 2006 and 2011, U.S. flight schools continued to train some foreign students who had not undergone background security checks.
Stephen Lord of the Government Accountability Office told Congress the exact number is secret.
"Some of the foreign nationals holding pilots licenses were not in the TSA's database indicating that some foreign nationals had not been vetted before receiving flight training and ultimately receiving pilots licenses," Lord said.
At one flight school, TJ Aviation near Boston, Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents in 2010 found 25 foreign students who were in the U.S. illegally taking flight lessons.
Three of them had already obtained FAA pilots licenses. One was certified to fly for an airline.
In addition, the owner of the school was in the country illegally. He managed to become certified as a cargo pilot and flight instructor without ever going through the required TSA security check.
The Government Accountability Office investigation also turned up another bizarre security loophole. Kerwin Wilson, who oversees flight school training for the TSA, said U.S. citizens on the no-fly list can still take flight lessons.
TJ Aviation is now out of business and records also show us that the TSA is getting better at vetting foreign students before they are admitted to U.S. flight schools. Officials, however, see the system is still no perfect and it's possible a terrorist looking for training could exploit the vulnerability.
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