My name is Ricky Gonzalez. I am a Captain on a Citation Jet for Dorado Aviation based out of San Juan, Puerto Rico. On Wednesday May 22nd, 2013 we were approach by three vehicles right after parking at the National Jets FBO at the Fort Lauderdale International Airport (FLL). The person in charge wore a safety vest " Sheriff" and said that they were working in conjunction with the DHS.
I could go forever with the description about this. Among a few interesting points, the Law Enforcement Officer asked me if we had clear Customs to which I answered that we were coming from Puerto Rico, which is a US Territory and Commonwealth of the US. He could not understand at first. Also, one of the ladies at the FBO's front desk said that in her many years working for the same FBO she had never seen an operation like ours.
To make this more interesting my boss the aircraft owner was onboard with his family. The officer asked if he could ask him a few questions. I went inside the FBO and when I walked back they were talking to him in the back of one of the SUVs.
We stopped in FLL to pick up fuel on the way to TEB [Teterboro, NJ]. .. They asked the same questions to my Boss, my Co- Captain and myself, almost as I they were looking for one of us to change the version....
Is it becoming a new tactic from Law Enforcement?
Now, from David Rivera, who runs a small business in San Diego:
I too have had this happen twice to me. Both times leaving KSEE [Gillespie Field, on the east side of San Diego] and flying to KMKN [Comanche County airport in Texas, southwest of Fort Worth] in route to KFLL [Fort Lauderdale] Florida. KMKN at the time was the cheapest 100LL in the country and an easy choice in a southern route coast to coast low altitude flying. [100LL, also known as "Avgas," is the main fuel for piston-engine airplanes. It's a higher-octane, and higher-lead-content, version of normal gasoline. The aviation business is in the middle of a much-delayed shift to unleaded aviation fuel, but that hasn't happened yet. Flight planning software lets you know fuel costs at various airports, and there can be a huge difference. It's very common to pick a refueling site because it has cheaper fuel.]Both times I departed KSEE IFR and cancelled once in route VFR with flight plan filed. [IFR is Instrument Flight Rules, in which a pilot must follow Air Traffic Control's clearances for route, altitude, speed, etc. Even when the weather is good, pilots often choose to fly IFR to leave or enter a congested urban area with complicated airspace. That simplifies the process of knowing where they are and are not supposed to fly. Once away from the city, the pilot may "cancel IFR" and proceed on his own, under Visual Flight Rules, being careful to stay out of certain kinds of airspace.]When I landed [at Comanche County] to refuel, I was greeted by black Ford Expeditions and local and federal law enforcement officers. My story was similar to the others you have posted, except for one crazy difference. Before I agreed to the search I needed to use the bathroom and was allowed to leave the plane and the officers and walk to a bathroom located a significant distance from the officers. I thought wow they actually would let a drug suspect leave their sight?I came back a few minutes later and they asked to me for my license and medical along with airplane documents. I got the BS line about the dog getting a "trigger". I allowed them to search the plane since I have nothing to hide and I was happy to be out of the plane after five hours. The officers were "very" knowledgeable about the FAR [FAA regulations] regarding pilots and planes. An hour later I was allowed to fuel the plane and depart.When I returned home I told my friends at the SDPD [San Diego police] and a good friend of mine that is an FBI agent about the "ramp check". They said that there is no way officers will let you out of their sight if they suspect you of committing a crime. They knew I was on a flight plan intending to land at KMKN and they could track me on Flight Aware. This allowed them to be ready to document a search. Homeland Security has a huge budget to fund government agencies and the agencies have to justify the money. Both of my friends had Homeland Security give them funding for similar projects. I believe this will just continue until the money runs out!
No more "analysis" at the moment. For now I am just rolling the stories out, and have asked federal authorities for comment. More on the way. (And, to put things in a larger Security-State perspective, consider this, via Michael Ham.)
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James Fallows is a staff writer for The Atlantic and has written for the magazine since the late 1970s. He has reported extensively from outside the United States and once worked as President Carter's chief speechwriter. He and his wife, Deborah Fallows, are the authors of the 2018 book Our Towns: A 100,000-Mile Journey Into the Heart of America, which was a national best seller and is the basis of a forthcoming HBO documentary.