NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Who Are The Pilots?

February 25, 2002

According to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), the government does not investigate the backgrounds of foreign nationals who apply for commercial airline pilots' licenses in the United States. Instead, the FAA automatically grants a foreign applicant a U.S. commercial pilot's license, provided the applicant already possesses a valid commercial pilot's license from his native country, and provided that country is a member of the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO). Membership in the ICAO, however, is hardly restrictive:

  • Member countries in the ICAO include all seven nations on the State Department's list of state sponsors of international terrorism -- Iraq, Iran, Syria, Libya, Sudan, Cuba and North Korea.
  • This list, of course, includes the three nations cited by President Bush in his State of the Union Address as components of an "axis of evil."
  • The list of nations belonging to the ICAO, whose nationals have an automatic right to commercial pilot's licenses in the United States, also includes Saudi Arabia and Egypt, the home countries of the September 11 terrorists.

There is no requirement for pilots entering the U.S. with ICAO certification to be U.S. citizens, and there is no requirement that the FAA check their backgrounds. As it is, the government does not know how many foreign pilots there are in the United States and is not doing anything to check on new ones coming to work here. Thus, the only barrier to ill-intentioned international pilots entering the U.S. and taking jobs as pilots are the airlines themselves, which do nothing more than a standard criminal background check. Other than no criminal conviction, the only qualifications a foreign applicant needs to get a job as a commercial airline pilot are a pilot's license and a green card.

Source: Joseph D'Agostino, "Illegal Aliens Flew For U.S. Airlines," Human Events Online, February 15, 2002.


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