Submitted by Charlton Stanley (Otteray Scribe) guest blogger
This has not gotten much national press….yet. I had been hearing of these events through the aviation grapevine, but did not know for sure it was actually happening until the story of Gabriel Silverstein broke on the AOPA (Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association) news web page. Mr. Silverstein is a New Jersey businessperson who was returning from a business trip to California with his husband. He had filed a flight plan, and landed his Cirrus SR22, a small private aircraft, in Oklahoma for a fuel stop. At that time, he was subjected to a ramp check. By Federal Air Regulations, a ramp check is supposed to be done only by an FAA official. On a standard ramp check, the pilot has to produce documents showing the airplane is airworthy, is registered, and has the paperwork on board as required under Part 91 of the Federal Air Regulations. The pilot must show his or her pilot’s license and medical certificate. The Oklahoma ramp check was brief, and he went on his way. He had to stop for fuel again in Iowa City. Upon arrival, he went into the FBO (Fixed Base Operator) office to pay for his gas, take a break and file a new flight plan. When he returned to his plane, he found it surrounded by officers, being searched without his permission, and with no explanation. The officers said “Probable Cause” was the K-9 dog had “hit” on the baggage compartment. The officers ordered him to be quiet, and if he asked any more questions, he would spend the rest of the day in the back of a police cruiser in handcuffs.
One officer handed Mr. Silverstein a business card identifying him as being with the Department of Customs and Border Protection. Mr. Silverstein says the brown uniforms and shoulder patches he saw that day were identical to the one worn by the officer on the right in this stock CPB photo. On their web page, the CPB identifies this location as being at their Air and Marine Operations Center. I think we can safely assume this is not the main operations room, but only part of the operation.
Geography was not my favorite subject in school, but last time I looked, both Oklahoma and Iowa are a long way from any international border.
More Border Patrol and Homeland Security goodness over the jump, including a video interview with Mr. Silverstein.
This link is to the AOPA news page. There is a video interview with Mr. Silverstein where he gives his explanation of what happened (sorry, I can’t get it to embed). Since AOPA first broke that story, they have followed up with another account: Fresh reports of aircraft searches, CBP has little to say
James Fallows of The Atlantic has also covered the story in some detail. The pilot accounts he reports are chilling. Apparently, the simple fact that one is flying from west to east across the country is enough to arouse suspicion and bring out these guys to greet you.
In one incident, the officers wanted their dog to jump up on the wing of an airplane. The owner said he would allow it if the officer would take personal responsibility and sign a document attesting that he would pay for repainting the plane if the dog’s paws scratched the paint, and it would have to be witnessed by all the other 19 officers present.
Some of the pilots detained for these “ramp checks” report that when CPB agents can’t find anything, they seem to become increasingly angry and frustrated.
There has been at least one report where an agent started taking inspection plates off an airplane. That is illegal, since those inspection panels should only be removed (and replaced) by an FAA certified and licensed aircraft technician.
The CPB has developed a huge electronic net called the Air and Marine Operations Surveillance System (AMOSS). According to an online statement:
“AMOSS utilizes extensive law enforcement and intelligence databases, and tracking and communications networks to provide a single display that is capable of tracking over 24,000 individual targets.”
The CPB admits to monitoring FAA and military radar systems, but its full capability is unknown.
There are increasing numbers of heavy-handed searches. In one incident, a 70 year old glider pilot was forced down and arrested after flying over a nuclear plant, despite the fact no flight restrictions are shown on any chart, there are no NOTAMS (Notice to Airmen), and no listed TFRs (Temporary Flight Restrictions). Additionally, gliders, being unpowered aircraft, have the right of way over all other air traffic except balloons. Glider pilot Robin Fleming is interviewed here by AOPA:
When his case went to court, the charges were dropped, provided he sign a statement agreeing to not sue the law enforcement agencies and officers involved in his illegal arrest and detention.
This is just another chapter in the growing police state the US is becoming in the name of the “War on Terror” and the “War on Drugs.”
The floor is open for discussion and additional stories if any aviators out there have them. Personally, I would love to get a response from the CPB explaining just what they hope to accomplish by these draconian stops with no probable cause other than a general aviation plane is flying from west to east.