As you might guess, Martha and I are interested in the balance between aviation liberty and national law enforcement, and we would like to pass on some thoughts.
It appears that government agencies are using their ability to monitor general aviation flights to select aircraft to intercept on landing based on what they consider to be a “suspicious” pattern of flight, including such activities as flying west to east without contacting air traffic control. Most of these interceptions, we are told, are for the purpose of pursuing the “war on drugs.” The interceptions often involve warrantless searches, because the officers feel the fact that pilots are already under FAA jurisdiction allows searches with no further authorization.
Using this method of determining which aircraft to intercept, it is likely to require many, many interceptions in order to find one true culprit. The result is great disruption and trauma to the lives of perfectly law-abiding citizens with very little gain. Why do it then? For several reasons.
First, travel in personal airplanes provides almost the ultimate in freedom. You can go where you want, when you want, rapidly and with ease. This concept is scary to the government. So, because technology allows it, they monitor these private movements. It would not be possible to monitor personal movements in the family car in the same way. But most important, we wouldn’t stand for it. How many interceptions — by cops with guns — of families on vacation based on their travel patterns would it take before there was national outrage?
Personal travel in airplanes is not seen in the same way that personal travel in cars is, and because the government can get away with it, they continue to do it.
Everyone, whether they travel in airplanes or not, should be concerned about this unreasonable intrusion on personal freedom. The loss of civil liberties to one group threatens the liberty of us all. Let’s lobby our aviation organizations to represent our interests on this very important issue.