While the finer points reveal a system that's not as broken as the headlines suggest, it still speaks to the challenges of balancing the need to track pilots and aircraft without burdening the industry with strict regulations.
U.S. registries of pilots and aircraft contain incomplete information that may interfere with screening for terrorists and investigations of aviation accidents, according to a government report.
The Transportation Department’s inspector general found about half of foreign-owned aircraft registered with the Federal Aviation Administration didn’t list required information such as the owners, a report out today found.
Pilot registrations often contain incomplete addresses, making it difficult for the U.S. Transportation Security Administration to locate people for required security screening, the report found.
“These data weaknesses largely stem from FAA’s lack of formal quality control procedures to regularly reassess the integrity of the registry’s data and information systems,” Louis King, assistant inspector general for financial and information technology audits, said in the report.
Auditors found 130 cases in which planes were registered multiple times to different entities, making it difficult to identify the owner. The U.S. registry contains 350,000 planes and helicopters.
“While this is a small number of discrepancies, the impact is potentially significant if a serious incident occurs and FAA is unable to identify the aircraft’s owner in a timely manner,” King said in the report.
The FAA, which is re-registering all aircraft, said many of the pilot licenses lacking address information were no longer active and those licenses were granted in the 1970s and 1980s before the address requirement was imposed.
If non-U.S. citizens register aircraft with the FAA under a trust, they must identify the owner of the trust and the operator of the aircraft.
Auditors estimated that 5,600 of 10,292 foreign-owned aircraft in the FAA registry, or 54 percent, lacked that type of information. That has led to cases in which the FAA couldn’t identify an aircraft’s owner after an accident or incident in another country, according to the report.
The FAA granted pilot licenses to more than 43,000 people who didn’t provide a permanent address, the report found. They used businesses or flight schools as addresses, according to the report.
The FAA had 614,000 registered pilots, including students, in 2008, the most recent year with data, according to the agency’s website.
The IG’s report reached similar conclusions to a U.S. Government Accountability Office audit last year. The GAO found that some of the 26,000 non-U.S. citizens who received pilot licenses hadn’t been vetted by the TSA as required.
Editors: David Ellis, Bernard Kohn. To contact the reporter on this story: Alan Levin in Washington at [email protected]. To contact the editor responsible for this story: Bernard Kohn at [email protected].
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