The US government is to check the background of all foreigners applying to flight schools.
The expanded security measures by the Transportation Security Administration, aimed in part at preventing potential terrorists from taking pilot lessons as some of the September 11 hijackers did, now apply to any foreigner seeking flight training in the United States, not just those learning to fly larger aircraft.
In addition, 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 12,500lbs 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 Stone, whose agency expanded the pool to include smaller aircraft on Wednesday.
The new rules follow the TSA’s takeover of the programme from the US Justice Department on October 5. All foreign applicants, including certified pilots, will have to undergo TSA checks starting on December 19.
The justice department said 30,000 foreigners applied to US flight schools last year.
Under the department programme, 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.
Terrorism suspect Zacarias Moussaoui, the only US defendant accused of participating in the al-Qaida September 11 plot, was arrested a month before the attacks when he aroused suspicions at a flight school. One of the September 11 hijackers rented small aircraft several times in the summer before the attacks for practice flights.
TSA’s security checks do not apply to foreign students already in training or enrolled in flight schools, although they are required for pilots training for another level or type of aircraft.