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Location: Massachusetts, United States

Monday, October 24, 2005

The joys of paperwork

I've finally selected a start date for ATP: January 30, 2006. I couldn't be more excited and am eagerly counting down the days, but before D-day is set in stone I have mounds of paperwork to fill in and several hurdles to clear, not least of which is that of getting government authorization to begin my curriculum.
As a citizen of the greenest island in the Western world, I am required to clear any flight training with the kind folks at TSA, the Transport Security Administration. The agency ultimately has final say in whether "aliens" can pursue flight instruction. The new rule, which went into effect in late 2004, was not a factor when I began training for my private license. When time came to begin instrument training, however, I had to ask TSA for permission. The process was all in all painless. After filling out an exhaustive online application and paying the $130 fee, I went to my local police station to get fingerprinted and passed the cards on to Washington, where they completed my application. Three weeks later, an email from TSA allowed me to begin training.
Now, with my plans etched, I have to go through the process again. This time around, however, I'm a little more nervous about it because my entire future at ATP and beyond is contingent on TSA (ditto final enrollment at the school, closing the loan etc...) and, well, bureaucracies have been known to screw up.
My worries are anchored in the recent troubles experienced by an "alien" pilot in my neck of the woods.
Robert Gray, a British citizen born in Belfast, has been a C402 captain for Cape Air for four years and as such holds an ATP. The bulk of his training took place here, in the United States, where he has been living since 1993, flying commercially for seven years and is about to get married to an American citizen.
In November of last year, Gray, 35, was offered a job at Executive Fliteways, a private air charter company based in New York and submitted an application to TSA to receive training on the company's jets. Three months later, a TSA official sent Gray an email reading "based upon materials available to TSA, I have determined that you pose a threat to aviation or national security." No further explanation was provided to Gray, but he noticed that the agency had categorized him as Hispanic and had left out his two middle names, leading him to believe this was a case of mistaken identity.
Fliteways subsequently withdrew their job offer and Gray filed a lawsuit against the agency seeking reversal of the ruling.
To make matters worse, TSA in September put Gray on its no-fly list, basically grounding him and ending his career at Cape Air. His lawyers called it retaliation for the lawsuit, but TSA denied it was.
Now, there's obviously a lot I don't know about this specific situation and perhaps TSA's decision is grounded in solid facts. However, if the agency is indeed wrong, the case should be a serious source of concern for us foreigners, the vast majority of whom mean no harm at all to anyone. This guy clearly paid his dues over the years and I have to wonder just what the government's decision was based on. If it is an error, which is entirely possible since TSA has to sift through 35,000 such applications every year, one has to wonder why there is little willingness to right the wrong.
Again, based on my previous experience with TSA, the process can be easy, fast and painless but one can't help to worry, especially when enrollement and financing are dependent on the process working effectively. Stay tuned for an update...
Hmmm.... paperwork... arghhhhhhhhhh.


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