TSA Rule Update

The Transportation Security Administration enacted rules in the aftermath of September 11 that aimed to prevent terrorists from training in American flight schools as some of the hijackers had done. These rules generally required that security threat assessments be performed for certain individuals seeking flight training in the United States. 

It also required that flight schools and instructors undergo security awareness training to better help them identify individuals who posed a risk. The TSA enacted its interim final rule in 2004 and, in the years after that, issued several interpretations or clarifications to address questions or concerns raised by industry groups and other stakeholders. This Interim Final Rule was in place for two decades.

In May 2024, the TSA promulgated a new final rule. In doing so, the TSA aimed to essentially clean up the 2004 Interim Final Rule. Specifically, the TSA incorporated certain clarifications it offered over the years and modified the program to make it more effective and less burdensome. The new rule also responded to several comments that the TSA had received from industry about the 2004 Interim Final Rule over the years. This article addresses significant changes between the 2004 Interim Final Rule and the 2024 Final Rule.   

Like the 2004 Interim Final Rule, the 2024 Final Rule includes provisions addressing both Security Awareness Training for flight training providers as well as Security Threat Assessments for flight training candidates.

A significant change with respect to flight training providers is the new requirement that they have a Security Coordinator. This person serves as a primary contact for communications with the TSA and is responsible for coordinating security practices internally and with law enforcement agencies.

As to the Security Awareness Training, the biggest change (and a welcome one at that) is that flight training employees need only complete the refresher course every two years. Previously, the training had to be completed every year.

One of the biggest changes to the Security Threat Assessment portion of the rule is the elimination of the weight-based classifications under the previous rule. Under the 2004 Interim Final Rule, candidates fell into one of four categories that depended, in part, on the weight of the aircraft they sought to train in. The 2024 Rule has done away with these weight-based categories and the requirements for security threat assessments do not depend on the weight of the aircraft.

Another notable change is that discovery flights are expressly included within the definition of “demonstration flights for marketing purposes.” While the TSA never required threat assessments for them, fitting a “discovery flight” into the 2004 language was arguably a stretch. The 2024 Rule does not require threat assessments before “discovery flight[s] for the purpose of demonstrating a flight training provider’s training program to a potential candidate.”

Another significant change is that the TSA’s determination of eligibility for applicants is now valid for five years unless one of three disqualifying events occurs. Under the 2004 Interim Final Rule, a new determination of eligibility had to be issued by the TSA each time a candidate wished to receive flight training. The five-year STA will also allow candidates to receive training from multiple providers based only on one STA.

Finally, the TSA may also accept the results of a “comparable, valid, and unexpired” STA or investigation completed by the TSA or another federal agency as a determination of eligibility. Examples of comparable STAs include those associated with TSA PreCheck and Global Entry. Allowing candidates to submit comparable assessments is intended to allow candidates to avoid having to pay the full fee for a TSA determination of eligibility.

While these are perhaps the most significant changes, the new rule includes a number of less significant ones made to clarify the 2004 rule. We encourage anyone who is potentially affected by the rule to review it closely. If you have any questions about the scope or application of the rule, please call AOPA’s Legal Services Plan.

Dan Hassing
Daniel Hassing is an in-house attorney with AOPA’s Legal Services Plan who counsels Plan members on a daily basis. He is a private pilot and a Part 107 UAS pilot. Before joining AOPA’s Legal Service Plan, Dan worked at a firm for 10 years, litigating cases across the United States. Dan also clerked for a Justice of the Nebraska Supreme Court for two years. Dan received his law degree at the University of Nebraska College of Law and received his bachelor’s degrees at the University of Nebraska-Omaha. In his free time, Dan enjoys spending time with his family, flying, and golf.
Topics: Security, Flight School

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