U.S. Customs Puts an End to Aircraft Stops?

AOPA gets assurances from incoming CBP head.

AOPA president Mark Baker sat down with the head of U.S. Customs and Border Protection recently to deliver a message: Unwarranted stops of general aviation airplanes by CBP agents must end. The response from the agency’s new top official? We agree.

AOPA says it has received more than 50 reports from members who have been questioned and in many cases searched by CBP or local law enforcement acting on their behalf, sometimes with weapons drawn.

In a meeting with incoming CBP Commissioner R. Gil Kerlikowske, Baker repeated AOPA’s position that agents should have probable cause before stopping GA aircraft. According to AOPA, pilots who have been stopped and searched have been told that their flights were suspicious because they flew too slowly, made frequent stops, landed or departed from a state where marijuana is legal, traveled long distances, or changed their flight plan en route.

During the meeting Kerlikowske said he is undertaking a bottom-up review of CBP’s enforcement activity regarding GA aircraft, according to AOPA. The agency’s future activities will focus on those individuals who are actually conducting illegal activity, he reportedly said.

“This meeting was a step in the right direction in terms of bringing these incidents to an end, and we will continue to monitor CBP’s actions regarding GA aircraft,” Baker said. “At the same time, we won’t back down when it comes to protecting the rights of pilots, and we’ll continue to work with CBP and policy makers to ensure we get a satisfactory resolution.”

Flying was among the first outlets to focus major attention on the warrantless CBP stops, bringing the issue to the aviation community’s attention in a series of articles last year.

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