From A Concerned Pilot

This is an email that has apparently been making the rounds in the general aviation community:

As the days go by I find myself more and more apprehensive about the drift of America toward becoming what, not to mince words, can be described as a “police state.” To the average citizen this drift is not yet all that obvious, as except for the now-familiar hassle of taking a commercial airline flight most people can go about their daily activities without interference. The average citizen, therefore, reacts to this police state notion with something ranging from a shrug to an outright “B.S.-what’s he talking about?”

Where the drift is showing up is not yet in the world of the average citizen but on the powerless fringes of society… affecting only those who, in the judgment of the “authorities,” lack the political muscle to fight back. What follows is a perfect example.

A tiny minority of Americans, a minority of which I am a member, are airplane pilots and owners. We own and operate small propeller-driven aircraft, used primarily for personal recreational travel. In other words, for fun. I compare us to RV owner-operators, as these airplanes are equivalent in price range to the RVs and campers so many Americans own and enjoy.

Just like the RVers we airplane operators have historically enjoyed the freedom of travel our machines can provide. In other words, we have been able to get in our airplanes and go somewhere without seeking permission from some government security agency. This is all changing.

Utilizing their seemingly unfettered authority to do anything that strikes their fancy without oversight by anyone, Homeland Security has instituted a requirement that private aircraft operators seek government permission each time we propose to take off if we are planning to depart for Canada, Mexico or the Caribbean. We must provide advance detailed information about where, when, and who, including the names, social security numbers, addresses, etc., of all persons who will be in the aircraft. The justification for this, they say, is that we, our spouses, family or friends might be on their mysterious and top secret “No Fly List.” The most significant aspect of this is that Homeland Security has indicated that this is a preliminary step toward their ultimate objective of requiring this data submission prior to EVERY aircraft takeoff in America, regardless of destination. Keep this in mind as we continue.

It is important to understand that this requirement breaks entirely new ground. While ENTERING any country requires formalities, never, ever, has it been necessary to seek and receive government permission to LEAVE America, the “land of the free,” much less to travel within its borders. And never, ever, has it been proposed that such permission is somehow necessary to preserve “national security.” This is a requirement only previously seen in Iron Curtain dictatorships.

Another entirely new and very unsettling aspect of this program has just surfaced in the form of several incidents in which citizens who filed the required information and received official permission to depart the USA have been detained as they were preparing to take off and had their personal aircraft, luggage, wallets, purses, etc., searched by government agents. In one particularly frightening case (Long Beach, California) the airplane was blocked in by multiple vehicles with red lights and sirens and the occupants forced from their plane, hands on their heads, by “screaming” agents from several agencies pointing drawn weapons. In this and all the other incidents, after extensive searches the agents told the citizens it had been just a “routine ramp check” and departed, leaving the shaken travelers to repack their belongings. This activity, totally unrelated to traditional arrival customs checks, also breaks new ground. On the face of it, it seems to clearly violate the Fourth Amendment of our Constitution, as it is not a match for any of the situations Courts have ruled would make this type of warrantless “random stop and search” activity permissible.

Complaints to Homeland Security higher ups about these “routine checks” were answered by spokeswoman Kelly Ivahnenko with a statement that said, and I accurately paraphrase, “we maintain we have this power and authority, you can expect we will continue to do it whenever and wherever we wish, and there is no requirement that we justify ourselves or explain our reasons.”

This answer itself is, in my opinion, even more frightening than screaming gun-wielding agents. Having an American bureaucrat maintain that their police organization possesses unlimited discretionary authority should give pause even to the most passive among us, as it is exactly what the Geheime Staatspolizei (Gestapo) said when anyone complained. Overrides of our Constitutional rights by authorities are supposed to be backed by Supreme Court rulings based on clearly articulated justifications, not on the whim of some unelected bureaucrat.

What does this mean to the average citizen? Yes, you don’t own an airplane and, OK, you really don’t give a [bleep] about how airplane owners are treated. But consider this: Do you own an RV? A car or van? All the “justifications” being used to restrict, control and harass aviation people would apply equally to anyone who travels in RVs, cars, vans, busses, trains, bicycles or what-have-you. And if you think that if unchecked it will stop with airplane owners, well, I fear you are sadly mistaken.

First they came for the pilots, and I said nothing because I wasn’t a pilot…

93 thoughts on “From A Concerned Pilot”

  1. Frightened of regulatory agencies with unlimited discretionary power?

    As a gun owner, I have to say:

    Where have YOU been for the past thirty years!

  2. Citizens have power and lend it to the government. This is an indication that pilots are not citizens, nor will the rest of us be. Perhaps we should be taking better notes of the Iranian protesters.

  3. The sad thing is most of our elected representatives won’t care about this until it affects them or their family.

  4. Glad to see the pilot has caught on, because his complaint is nothing really new to anyone who has been paying attention for the last 20 years.

    Ordinary drivers have witnessed the ever growing use of police street checkpoints, first excused as drunk driving checkpoints, now expanded as seat belt checkpoints and frequently supplemented by drug dogs passed among the vehicles. Then there is the fun phenomenon of police arresting people who video tape police actions, frequently accompanied by confiscation and destruction of the video tape. And who isn’t enamored of the common use of SWAT team tactics for service of all search warrants, busting in on sleeping people, shooting pets, sometimes shooting the sleepy occupants and all too often busting in at the wrong address?

    So the TSA actions don’t surprise me at all. Welcome to the party pall!

  5. What a bunch of trolls. A guy trys to warn you about another bear lurking in the woods and all you can do is throw rocks at him? How about the odd little concept of working together? Here’s more ammunition for you Tea Party people. I’m a gun owner and a pilot. I belong to the NRA and AOPA. I have written letters, even visited my representatives on gun confiscation and other issues. So here’s even more reason (as if needed) for working together. Instead of spitting on the messenger.

  6. @John Wolf: “What a bunch of trolls. A guy trys to warn you about another bear lurking in the woods and all you can do is throw rocks at him?”

    John, your reading comprehension is nil. Can you quote even one line from the four comments preceding yours that denigrates the concerned pilot that Rand refers to in his post?

    On the other hand, thank you for your help in supporting the NRA.

  7. Darkstar, perhaps you might read again the posts by DaveP (“Where have YOU been for the last 30 years!”) and Brad (“Glad to see the pilot has caught on, yada yada, 20 years.”)

    As if GA pilots haven’t been fighting this exact battle for decades. If there are two groups with an idea of what real liberty is all about, it’s gun owners and GA pilots. The fact that D and B can express such surprise shows they know nothing of the history of the latter group, and your own thrown rock at John Wolf about “reading comprehension” shows you might have a hard time grasping the concept of irony.

  8. Let’s see: Darkstar and I posted comments directly pertaining to the article, specifically the fact thet the author seems to only now be catching up to the idea that there really is no such thing as civilian oversight of the bueraux (an issue that should have been obvious to anyone after 1984)… Patrick and John Wolf took time out of their busy day to badmouth us for making a pretty obvious point… and WE’RE the trolls.


  9. Our local police here in Southern California have in the past set up random “checkpoints” that require all cars (or a selected subset) to stop and be searched with no particular reason to do so except perhaps to stop drunk drivers.

    It didn’t dawn on me that that is a violation of the 4th Amendment.

    Then again who besides Robert Byrd (I can’t believe my hope for this country is reduced to Byrd, but he’s the only voice in the Senate) is even asking the question, “Barry, is this Constitutional?” concerning Obambi’s twenty-one Czars (root word: “Caesar”).

    Where in the Constitution is the “right” to health care or Social Security or a host of other intrusive government programs?

    How can our Senators, Representatives and President, who all take an oath to protect the Constitution, be so derelict?

  10. “Utilizing their seemingly unfettered authority to do anything that strikes their fancy without oversight by anyone,”

    It sounds like a Home Owners Association.

  11. While John Ross’s novel “Unintended Consequences” is probably best known for its portrayal of the B.A.T.F., F.A.A. officials were treated in a similar fashion in some of the sub-plots. Mr. Ross is both a shooter and a pilot.

    The number of gun owners in this country is 40 million to 100 million, depending on who’s figures you believe.

    By comparison, there are 625,000 (or 0.625 million) pilots in the U.S. [source: ]

  12. Capt. Vasili Borodin: I will live in Montana. And I will marry a round American woman and raise rabbits, and she will cook them for me. And I will have a pickup truck… maybe even a “recreational vehicle.” And drive from state to state. Do they let you do that?
    Captain Ramius: I suppose.
    Capt. Vasili Borodin: No papers?
    Captain Ramius: No papers.

  13. Many people resent GA pilots as if they are the “rich” who annoy them by flying noisily over their house. But I got my pilots license as a teenager, paying for it literally by pumping gas at the airport.

    Some of the replies above seem to show that there is little sympathy for pilots, that it’s easy to come after the pilots first, because the majority have no sympathy, and can’t relate to the freedom to travel by air, because most only do so by airliner.

    But pilots are citizens too, and the freedom to travel by private airplane is in danger of being lost, entirely in violation of established constitutional protections.

    We could use a bit of help.

  14. I am also a GA pilot and gun owner. I’ve been both from the early 80’s and I’ve noticed the trend described in both areas. In the ’50’s the price of a nice new 4-seat aircraft like a Cessna 172 was about the same as a family station wagon. Lawyers, frivolous lawsuits, government intervention, etc. has all but eliminated the GA pilot nowadays. A new Cessna 172, if such a thing could even be had, would cost many times what a minivan costs.

    Indeed, there are many similarities between the plight of the GA pilot and the plight of gunowners. However, I maintain that the days of the GA pilot are essentially over because we really formed no cooridinated resistance as our wonderful pastime was slowly and gradually taken away from us.

    If other gun owners aren’t interested in helping curb the current government attacks on GA pilots, they should at least be interested from the perspective of: it’s going to happen to you too.

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  16. The government will push its power until the citizens push back. I was driving to Tucson for Thanksgiving in 2007. I described the event here. What was unbelievable was the certainty of these agents that this car with a grandfather and two teenaged girls had to have drugs hidden. My daughter’s friend, a rather naive 16-year-old, didn’t know what they were talking about. These two young girls were taken to another area where I could not see them and interrogated. They were completely out of control.

    All of our freedoms are threatened, especially by this administration which seems more authoritarian than its predecessors.

  17. The Coast Guard has been boarding recreational vessels for many years. Last month as we were taking our boat out of the slip for the first time to top up with potable water, a trip of about one mile, we were boarded by the USCG for a so-called “routine safety check.” The first question they asked me was if I had any weapons aboard. The young coastie was filling out a sheet on our boat. He was especially upset that we didn’t have a throwable rescue device with the requisite approval markings and that we weren’t wearing our inflatable PFDs which don’t count if not worn.

    He also checked our fire extinguishers, signage, flares, and the position of the Y-valve on our marine head.

    Make no question about it, If we’d had enough gigs we’d have received a ticket for a federal offense.


  18. I never said you were a troll, Dave. I understand you were making a point. You just did it somewhat at the expense of someone who should be your ally.

    Please take a look at the AOPA and EAA websites and note that much of what these two groups do is fight an ongoing rear-guard battle against government (and airline) attacks on general aviation.

  19. Well, When you allow the 2nd amendment to go unprotected… the others are sure to follow. You see the 2A has been used as a proving ground to show that most people who dont have an interest in a particular issue will glady
    divest themselves of any interest in it.. and in fact may even turn against it
    in spite of the fact that it is protected by the bill of rights. So when reading the above article, ask yourself what other liberties do you take for granted
    or perhaps even vote against…. once a right is lost… it is very hard to get it back. Just food for thought.

  20. These prohibitions are being set up to create class differences; “These things are properly permitted only to Those Who Count.”

    Only the superior class of people should have the ability to freely travel anywhere (they have assistants to handle the paperwork) or to own weapons or control those who use weapons, according to the beliefs of the snobs and inverse snobs.

    Crime has little to do with any of it. Only snobbery and elitism.

  21. As a GA pilot, gun owner, online poker player, and a Conservative, I have seen many of my rights trampled on over the past years. Unfortunately, much has been a result of the Republicans who I supported for most of my life.

    I have since re-registered as a Conservative, but whatever happened to personal rights, and shrinking Govt?

    These new nanny state Republicans have become as bad as the Democrats were in years past, and the Democrats have become unashamedly socialistic.

  22. I agree with many here. Mike is right when he says that the govt pushes until someone pushes back. Patrick’s ongoing rear-guard battle how the fight will play out. I think 600,00 pilots and a few friends if properly organized and motivated can defend themselves.I see a lot carping but who where is the resistance?

    Are there any groups I can support? Has anyone compiled a list of people to write to? Are there any websites documenting the fascist buffoonery; it wasn’t until Ezra Levant posted his interrogation by the Alberta Human Rights (truth is never a defense) commission that the issue crystallized for many people.

  23. Nice call for “doing something” but what?

    Voting the bastards out does not work when both sides are bastards. It was the republicans who started the ‘war on drugs’ that put the police totally out of control.

    In MN we just had the cops caught using a throw down gun at a police shooting and the jury let it go. They got caught because records showed that the gun had been in police custody and there was no explanation on how the victim could have gotten the gun from police custody. They claimed a records mix up. I did not see anybody being fired for incompetent record keeping. The cop was awarded a medal for shooting the victim eight times. There was no heroism involved in chasing down a kid in the dark who never fired a round. (because he did not have a gun). There was no round in the chamber of the throw down gun. The medal was part of the department cover up.

    Any politician that fights government growth is the target of the MSM.
    In the end its all about the money. If you are a citizen with any income that is money for the monster. Airplane owner, why you must have lots of money. The sanctuary cities exist because they found it was hard to extract money from illegal aliens so why arrest them?

  24. If you’re coming over here from Instapundit, the CBP affair is being responded to by the Airplane Owner’s and Pilot’s Association. See

    This should disturb everyone. It’s not just the no-reason, no-warrant searches, it’s the constant brandishing of weapons. Maybe it’s time for strict anti-gun laws – applied to the Government.

  25. Well, to own and operate aircraft, as well as to obtain your pilots license
    takes time, initiative, money, and intelligence, placing you squarely in what is increasingly becoming the” class of least protection”. Increasingly it looking like the protected class is made up largely of those with Federal employment
    in connection with public safety and or protecting the environment etc.
    The adage, those who would give up liberty for safety deserve neither… becomes more relevant as the loss of liberty becomes the reality, Very difficult to argue this with your face on the tarmac though. Meanwhile,
    as detained combatants are being Marandized in the sandbox..

  26. There was no heroism involved in chasing down a kid in the dark who never fired a round.

    When the guy with the badge and the gun tells you to stop, YOU STOP.

    Anyone wanna bet that this “Kid” was in his late teens?

  27. You know, it should be obvious by now that the enemy is not the muslims, the Iranians, the Chinese, or any other boogie man that the feds cook up for us. It seems to me that the enemy is right here at home.

    Perhaps the anti-federalists were right and the federalists wrong during the constitutional debates.

  28. Well, he’s a bit off here. The cops already set up road blocks on holiday weekends around here (Oklahoma) and stop and check vehicles. It’s not just airplanes………….


  29. I am also a pilot, in light aviation (piston-engined aircraft), although I am a commercial pilot in Europe.

    The most shocking thing I read is about the “routine” ramp check. It is a terrible safety hazard. No pilot should ever suffer that before flying. Of course the pilot should then have cancelled the flight, but with a planned flight there is a lot of pressure on a pilot to carry on. If he had suffered an accident then it would have been seen in the aviation community as a classic case, and to have started with the ramp check.

  30. You know, it should be obvious by now that the enemy is not the muslims, the Iranians, the Chinese, or any other boogie man that the feds cook up for us.

    Spoken like a Truther, kurt9. Just because you don’t trust the government doesn’t mean everyone outside our borders loves us.

  31. Um. When you cross the border of the United States, your belongings and person are not protected by the 4th Amendment. A customs officer needs no probably cause, or even reasonable suspicion, to tear your car apart when you come through the check point. That is both coming AND going. A person in subject to customs leaving as well as arriving, it is just that it has never been enforced as the government was more concerned about what was coming in than going.

    And the “routine” ramp check is a horrible thing? Are you kidding me? It is no different than getting pulled over, except that the agent or officer simply wants to make sure that you have the proper documentation. I doubt he’s brow-beating you or calling you names. He’s just doing his job and isn’t looking to “jack you up” if your medical expired last week. Sheesh. I’m a border line libertarian myself, but this is a little hyperventilating when there are bigger issues that actually mean something..

  32. Another group being made into criminals by governments at local, state, and federal levels: dog owners and breeders!! Truly outrageous!!

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  34. The drawn syndrome is terrifing. I was stopped because someone in a car just like mine had just robbed a 7-11. I had a date with me in the front seat. I was pulled over with all of the bells and whistles going on a busy street in Coral Gables Fl. As I got out thinking it was a traffic stop I was supprised to see the sheriff squating down behind his open door with his gun in the crack between the door frame and the car. The hammer was COCKED! If any of you have ever fired a revolver you know how easy it is to fire from the cocked position. I was told to spread eagle on the side of my car and for the passenger to get out and do the same. I pleaded with him to uncock his gun to no avail and was told to shut my mouth. Finally an older cop who was a sargeant showed up and told this idiot to put his gun away. Talk about no rights and no recourse! When a gun is in your face it chills all thought of confrontation or demanding your rights.

  35. Duncan: “It is no different than getting pulled over”

    Yes, it is. To get pulled over in a car, there needs to be articulable suspicion that a crime or infraction has occured. (Drunk driving traffic stops have different rules, but there are rules.)

    In contrast, the ‘safety and document’ inspections described by the pilots and boat owners here require no suspicion whatsoever. This is different.

    Some years back, I was living on my sailboat in San Diego, during the America’s Cup race there. The Coast Guard moved into the marina en masse, mostly to provide crowd control during the weeks long event. They were the kindest, politest, most considerate neighbors one could wish for. But it did not escape my notice that they could board my boat (home) at any time, as many times as they wanted, for no reason at all, in order to do ‘safety and document’ checks. Taken together, these powers amount to a massive grant of unchecked police authority to the Coast Guard.

    Duncan, the police cannot enter your home, car, or RV for no reason, but they CAN enter your boat and detain your plane with no reason. This is indeed different.

    It looks like homesec is now doing similar things to pilots.

    And that is frightening.

    Corkie the Dog

  36. Actually, they can’t detain your plane for no reason which would amount to an unreasonable seizure, and they can’t enter it without probable cause, or one of the Supreme Court exceptions to the probable cause requirement, minus a border crossing. As far as maritime vessels or “house boats”, I am a little unsure about since the “house boat” amounts to a residence, though it is on a “vessel” of some sort, an odd mixture, though there must be some case law defining the restrictions and procedures.

    A document check is an administrative issue, not necessarily a criminal one. If everything is in order, then there is nothing to freak out about. Remember, flying an aircraft is not necessarily a right, anymore than driving a car is….

  37. The problem is, (and it’s been mentioned already) that people ARE eager to give up their civil rights, especially if offered a carrot-whether that carrot is “Environmental”, “Healthcare”, “Safety” or “Security”.

    And it really doesn’t matter WHICH party is in power when the offer is made-the only difference is which freedoms they’re keen to curtail, and what incentive they offer to close the deal.

    General Aviation’s been under attack longer than all but Guns in this. The true problem being, that MOST of America really doesn’t want to be free-because being free, means being responsible for the outcome of what you do, and paying the price for your own screw-ups-and that’s a state that scares the CRAP out of most Americans-just look at who gets selected to be elected, since Reagan was in office, it’s been a choice between authoritarian and authoritarian, whether the authoritarian’s urges run toward “law and order” or toward “Spreading the Wealth”, it’s the same game, pick which one is going to take which freedoms, but it’s a losing game either way for we who aren’t among the privelaged Political class (ie government employees).

    Get used to it, it’s only going to get worse-because most of America doesn’t really want to grow up and live their own life, take responsibility for their own life, and really, they don’t WANT to be free.

    We have become a nation of sheep for the shearing.

  38. A very good piece. Though for those commenting about GA pilots coming late to the party, at least they ARE at the party now.

    The firearms community has been under attack, as noted above, for more than 20 years. Worse, within our own community, we suffer from “divide and conquer” syndrome. Duck hunters turn a blind eye when politicians with dreams of God-hood pass bans on competition rifles — so-called “assault weapons.” All the while the anti’s make a little more headway. Both in the aviation community as in the firearms community, there should be a NATO-style type of thinking. That an attack on one is viewed as an attack on all. I believe the words by the spokeswoman, saying they no obligation to justify what they are doing….should be a wake up call.

    Everyone needs to re-read the post and think about how it will affect their own lives, and send it to a friend.

  39. in the Purely Capitalistic Nation of America, only the Wealthy are Free.

    how do you like Crony Capitalism now??

  40. Under Capitalism, Man exploits Man. Under Communism, its just the opposite.

    –Economist John Kenneth Galbraith

  41. GA pilots have been fighting unreasonable government regulation for a long, long time.

    Some of them , that is. A lot of them seem to like being told what to do in minute detail.

    In Australia about 12 years ago the government had a nationwide gun buyback as a result of some nutjob shooting 35 people in Tasmania. It cost around A$500,000 (0.8USD to A$1 at present) and was compulsory.
    What frightens me as a GA and soaring pilot is that the government could buy every single engined aircraft and glider in Australia for around the same amount of money. The only people who would protest are the aircraft owners themselves and there aren’t very many of them – far fewer than gun owners.

    I tried to get some aviation people to make common cause with the gun owners but got very little interest.

  42. Duncan: “Actually, they can’t detain your plane for no reason which would amount to an unreasonable seizure, and they can’t enter it without probable cause, or one of the Supreme Court exceptions to the probable cause requirement, minus a border crossing.”

    YES THEY CAN — that’s the problem. The stories being told by the pilots on this thread are of government siezures. Whey they stop or detain your plane, that is a seizure. When they stop your boat, that is a siezure. When they enter your boat, that is a siezure, which usually ripens into a search. And they do not need probable cause, or articulable suspicion, or anything else (unlike a car, RV, or your house, where they do.)

    That is the problem — it is different from cars, RV’s, and homes, which all have some protection. What we are discussing here is a sweeping police power, without a probable cause or articulable suspicion requirement, with no border requirement, and with no recourse against governemnt action. And that is whey many are worried about it.

    To say that a siezure of a plane on a runway is the same as being pulled over not only misses the point, it is wrong. Pulling over a car requires articulable suspicion, siezing an airplane does not, at least according to the stories being told on this thread.

    Corkie the Dog

  43. in the Purely Capitalistic Nation of America, only the Wealthy are Free.

    how do you like Crony Capitalism now??

    This is the stupidest comment yet. What does this have to do with capitalism, crony or otherwise? Is it your insane claim that we’d have more freedom to fly our own planes under socialism?

  44. It seems to me that any one of these incidents, if they have occurred as described, would make an excellent test case of DHS’s claimed authority versus the 4th amendment. Some of these “shaken travelers” should sue for violation of their civil rights. If the incidents have really been as baseless and pointless as is described here, I’m sure the courts would order that warrants be required for any such actions in the future. Indeed, that might occur even if the actions were perfectly justified, its always easier to get a warrant when there is actual evidence of wrongdoing than mere fun and giggles.

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