View Full Version : Nat'l Security How 9/11 Changed Flight Schools in Florida
09-08-2011, 09:10 PM
Thought this was pretty interesting:
How 9/11 Changed Flight Schools in Florida
September 07, 2011 | WMFE - This week on 90.7 is commemorating the 10th anniversary of the 9-11 terrorist attacks . Three of the hijackers who carried out those attacks learned to fly at Florida flight schools. In the years since 9-11 security procedures at flight schools have been tightened. 90.7s Tom Parkinson recently paid a visit to Phoenix East Aviation school at the Daytona Beach International Airport. He spoke with the school's vice president Andre Maye, who says that, just hours after the attacks on 9-11, officials from the F-B-I started asking questions about his flight school and its students.
09-08-2011, 09:25 PM
Iirc, some of the Flight Schools were suspicious of the hijackers at their school due to certain things they did in their training. I don't remember if they made any reports officially, it's been so long, but I thought they had.
09-08-2011, 09:32 PM
Volusia flight schools getting more foreign students despite stricter screenings
ORMOND BEACH —
Ten years after the 9/11 attacks, government screening has made it harder for foreign students to enroll in civilian flight schools like a handful of the hijackers had done, banking on America being inviting and a place to learn quickly.
But the most rigorous checks don't apply to all students and instructors, so schools and trainers have to be especially alert to weed out would-be terrorists.
"Prior to 9/11, I wouldn't have had the phone number and name of my local FBI agent posted on my wall. I do," said Patrick Murphy, director of training at Sunrise Aviation in Ormond Beach, Fla., near Daytona Beach.
Hundreds of U.S. flight schools fiercely compete for students. In Florida, some still pitch the good weather as a way for students to fly more often and finish programs faster. The 9/11 hijackers sought out U.S. schools partly because they were seen as requiring shorter training periods.
Florida schools have reason to be careful: Three of the 9/11 hijackers were simulating flights in large jets within six months of arriving for training in Venice, Fla., along the Gulf Coast. Mohamed Atta, the operational leader of the hijackings, and Marwan al Shehhi enrolled in an accelerated pilot program at Huffman Aviation, while Ziad Jarrah entered a private pilot program nearby.
The terrorists obtained licenses and certifications despite rowdy behavior and poor performance at times.
Today, it would be tougher for those men to enter U.S. flight schools.
There is a stricter visa process for foreign students seeking flight training in the U.S. They cannot start until the Transportation Security Administration, created after 9/11 to protect U.S. air travel, runs a fingerprint-based criminal background check with the FBI's help and runs their names against terrorist watch lists. TSA inspectors visit FAA-certified flight schools at least once a year to make sure students have proper documentation verifying their identities and haven't overstayed their visas.
Plus, TSA shares intelligence with other agencies and has other layers of security to catch people before they can do harm even if they slipped through the cracks and were able to get flight training in the U.S.
The stepped-up measures involving flight schools are not foolproof or uniform, however.
There are numerous flight instructors with access to planes and simulators who don't all get an annual TSA visit, and are subject only to random TSA inspections if they train only U.S. citizens. The TSA has access to a database of all student pilots that is maintained by the FAA. But TSA said it only runs the names of U.S.-citizen students against watch lists, and not necessarily before those students can start their programs.
TSA said the fingerprinting and criminal background checks done on foreign students before they can enter U.S. flight schools are not done on U.S. citizens. TransPac Aviation Academy in Phoenix tells domestic applicants they need proof of citizenship, a high school diploma or college transcripts, a medical card, a driver's license and any pilot licenses already held. Other schools do the same, said Tom Lippincott, TransPac's vice president of business development.
And one security measure never employed by the government, despite interest from the 9/11 commission, was requiring that transponders that help officials locate commercial planes can't be turned off as the hijackers did. The FAA said if there is an electrical fire or malfunction, pilots must be able to turn off the transponder for safety reasons.
The shortcomings have led schools to self-police.
Andre Maye, vice president of administration at Phoenix East Aviation in Daytona Beach, pays attention to red flags including inconsistencies in addresses applicants provide and discrepancies on financial statements. He monitors the size of wire transfers from students when they pay for their tuition, which can total $46,000 or more, and looks for consistency in the transactions.
James Coyne, president of the National Air Transportation Association, a trade group for aviation service businesses including flight training companies, said the industry is open to more rigorous and uniform vetting of students.
The safeguards in place haven't deterred foreign students from flocking to the U.S. - Sunrise Aviation's Murphy said the majority of students are international at many flight schools, including his.
They come because the training industry is more developed and efficient than programs at home. Also, pilot hiring in the U.S. is stagnant, while growth in Asia has fueled a need for pilots there. Students often come to the U.S. with their own money or financing.
Of the 41 recommendations in the 9/11 commission's report, none specifically addressed flight schools. Thomas Kean, the former New Jersey governor who chaired the commission, said the feeling at the time was that the federal government already was working to close that loophole.
09-08-2011, 09:34 PM
It's a Monday night at Anthony's on the Boulevard. ("Best in Cape Coral 2011!'' the menu proclaims.) Rudi Dekkers' book-launch party isn't supposed to start until 7 p.m. but Dekkers is flat broke and in a hurry to sell his new autobiography, Guilty by Association.
So Dekkers leaps from his seat at 6:40 p.m. and faces his audience, still picking at their broiled scallops and baked potatoes.
"I get goose bumps every time I speak about it,'' he begins in his thick Dutch accent, recalling that day, Sept. 12, 2001, when a pair of FBI agents showed up at his Venice flight school.
" 'Mr. Dekkers, we're here for the files on two people from your school who flew into the buildings.' The moment when I heard I was involved in 9/11, I had an outside-body experience. I swear I was there looking down on my body, thinking now I am involved in the biggest disaster that ever happened in the United States. I had no clue what the next 10 years is going to bring.''
Dekkers' school trained Mohamed Atta and Marwan al-Shehhi, pilots of the two jets that brought down the World Trade Center and killed nearly 3,000 people. In the following days and weeks, Dekkers was all over television, saying he had no idea the men were terrorists even though they were from the Middle East and Atta was a cold, rude jerk who looked like "a dead man walking.''
There were also thousands of calls and e-mails, some from Americans who threatened to kill Dekkers, a foreigner himself. And although he said he barely knew either pilot, there were sensationalist Internet claims that he was friends with Atta and even went with him to a strip club shortly before 9/11.
Then the attention faded. Dekkers moved on with his life, which included writing a book to "set the record straight'' and make back part of the $12 million he says he lost because of the terror attacks. Which he is why he is here this night, fielding questions that show that a lot of people still don't entirely believe him or the official account of what happed on 9/11.
"Where did those stories originate that they were never taught to land?'' This is asked in a semi-accusing tone, by a man in a white T-shirt who appears to have had one too many beers.
Dekkers doesn't answer directly. Instead he says this: "We were preparing students for certain licenses. We do not issue licenses. If we are only steering right and left with them, do you think the FAA guys will give them a license?''
And, he says, Atta and al-Shehhi bought a software program called Microsoft Flight Simulator that helped show them how to fly big Boeing jets.
"Bill Gates is guilty on this because he wrote the plans for a flight simulator. See where I'm going with this — guilty by association.''
• • •
Now 55, Dekkers is trim and affable, with a penchant for slightly off-color jokes. In his book, he also portrays himself as a smart, outside-the-box thinker whose problems — and there have been many, even before 9/11 — are largely the fault of others.
He grew up in a rickety houseboat in Amsterdam, Netherlands, with what he describes as an authoritarian father and a hard-drinking mother. On his own at an early age, he shined shoes, drove a taxi, served in the army, sold drill bits and cleaning supplies. He finally hit it big as a home builder.
"Business was good,'' Dekkers writes, so he took up flying. He came to Florida to buy a Piper Seneca and decided to move his family to Naples.
"At 35, I felt that I had reached the limit of what I could accomplish in the Netherlands. I had proven myself as a builder and developer.''
Dekkers' book glosses over or doesn't mention some less savory aspects of his history in Holland. A Dutch soccer club said he reneged on a pledge to sponsor an event, leaving it on the hook for thousands of dollars. A computer company he started went bankrupt. Another venture led to a tax fraud conviction, later overturned on appeal.
In Florida, some who had dealings with Dekkers found him pushy and arrogant, a man who didn't always play by the rules.
"I'm not saying he would sell his soul, but he is very aggressive,'' Robert Larson, then director of operations at the Naples Airport Authority, told the St. Petersburg Times in 2004.
Dekkers ran a facility that leased and maintained planes. He was so late on his bills that at one point the airport refused to sell him aviation fuel even if he paid in cash. In 1999, in one of his many run-ins with the Federal Aviation Administration, the FAA cited him for operating an aircraft in an unsafe manner and suspended his pilot's license for 45 days, a severe penalty.
It was in Naples that Dekkers met a multimillionaire who loaned him money to buy Huffman Aviation, a flight school 100 miles up the road in Venice. In July 2000, two foreigners walked through the door. Mohamed Atta and Marwan al-Shehhi said they wanted to get their commercial licenses so they could fly for airlines back home in the Middle East.
Dekkers was thrilled to see them.
Summer in Florida "was always our slow season,'' he writes. "To pick up two extra students in July was a bonus. Since it takes about a half year for student to get a license, they would be leaving exactly as our busy season began, dumping an additional $40,000 into my business. I put on my winning smile and treated them to my best sales pitch.''
Atta, a cold fish, and al-Shehhi, more gregarious, already had flunked out of a Sarasota flight school, where an instructor complained that they were "aggressive, rude and sometimes even fought with him'' to take controls during training flights, according to the 9/11 Commission report. Dekkers' book says only that the two were unhappy with the Sarasota school and liked that he offered to arrange housing for them.
At Huffman Aviation, Atta and al-Shehhi were also trouble at first — "horribly obnoxious to all of our women employees,'' Dekkers writes, and "in the plane, they just mess(ed) around.'' But he decided to give them a second chance, and they seemed to straighten out.
In late 2000, both men got their licenses. There was a bizarre incident that Christmas Eve. They rented a Piper Warrior from Huffman, flew to South Florida and abandoned the plane on a taxiway at Miami International Airport when Atta flooded the engine while trying to start it.
Once they were back in Venice, Dekkers chewed them out.
"I told them that I never wanted to see them on our field again,'' he writes. "I didn't need the business of people who would treat my planes and the reputation of my flight school with such utter contempt. As usual, Atta looked furious and Shehhi remained polite.''
Dekkers said he heard nothing more about them until Sept. 12, 2001. And it was not until the following March that he opened his mail to find student visas for the now dead pilots — seven months after Dekkers had sent in their applications.
• • •
At Anthony's on the Boulevard, diners have finished their meals and more hands shoot up when Dekkers asks for questions. Someone wants to know if his book is indeed enough to set the record straight.
"The Naples Daily News today, I'm on the front page. "My publisher said, 'Did you see the reaction from people — how dare you make money from a book?' Someone says, 'You owe me $38,000 for an engine.' That's the Internet these days.''
Since 9/11, Dekkers' financial troubles have escalated. Some were caused by fallout from the hijackings. Huffman Aviation, suddenly notorious as a terrorist training school, lost so much business Dekkers had to sell it.
Then he got caught in another of the decade's big stories, the real estate bust.
After a short-lived venture selling mobile phones, Dekkers moved to Cape Coral and went into the swimming pool business. That did well, he says, until grossly overpriced Cape Coral became ground zero of the foreclosure crisis. He didn't save enough, especially after state regulators fined him $2,500 for falsely passing himself off as a licensed pool contractor. (He has yet to pay the fine.)
Three years ago, Dekkers and his fourth wife, a Cuban-American he met on the Internet, stopped making payments on their 6,500-square-foot home in a gated community called La Vida. The bank has yet to foreclose.
"What luck!'' Dekkers says. "I could not afford now to live under a bridge.''
He has other problems. He owes the IRS more than $50,000. Three decades after he first entered the country, he still doesn't have U.S. citizenship or even a green card. He thinks the immigration service is messing with him because it was embarrassed by the mixup over Atta and al-Shehhi's visa applications.
Dekkers is also angry at the FAA. He had to surrender his commercial pilot's license to resolve a lawsuit in which the FAA accused him of operating illegal charter flights.
Before 9/11, "I did not fear anything from government. Later I found out government agencies like scapegoats.''
As Dekkers winds up his talk, he gets a hearty round of applause. A waitress and several other people advance toward a table stacked high with copies of Guilty by Association.
"To be honest, I was a little skeptical early on, but getting to know the guy I think he got a bad rap because of everything that happened,'' says Danny Mitchell, who met Dekkers several years ago while installing screens around Dekkers' pools. Mitchell buys six books — "for support.''
The response to Guilty by Association has been fairly good. It briefly hit the top 50 in Holland and already has sold about 25,000 copies in the United States, Dekkers says. For every copy, he makes $5. But he did not get an advance and he has to pay for his book tour, which includes stops in Sacramento, Minneapolis and, as close as possible to the 9/11 anniversary, New York City.
Dekkers hopes to earn enough to try something new, perhaps motivational speaking ("I love it and as you saw, people like me") or maybe buying LED lightbulbs from China and selling them cut-rate in this country.
"I have so many ideas to start a business. All my life I think outside the box. That's how I make money.''
Anthony's is clearing out fast, but a few more people approach. Dekkers autographs the books with a flourish, then slips a few $20 bills into his pocket.
09-08-2011, 09:56 PM
Sarasota, Florida - With the 10th anniversary of the September 11 attacks just five days away, a new warning is out about al-Qaida loading small planes with explosives.
The FBI and Homeland Security have issued the nationwide warning, even though they say there is no specific or credible terrorist threat for the 10-year anniversary.
It's the kind of security scrutiny Rudi Dekkers says he wishes the government had 10 years ago. "Why didn't they warn flight schools?" asks Dekkers.
Ten years ago, Dekkers' aviation business was thriving and then came the terrorists' attacks of September 11, changing the country and his life. "Just before 9/11, I had 100 airplanes a year. After 9/11, I had zero airplanes," says Dekkers.
Dekkers' flight school in Venice trained two of the hijackers. 9/11 mastermind Mohammad Atta flew American Airlines Flight 11 into the World Trade Center's North Tower and about 17 minutes later, Marwan al-Shehhi steered United Airlines Flight 175 into the south tower. The two were Dekkers' students from July 1 until December 24, 2000.
Dekkers says, "Atta told me he had a job lined up in the Middle East with one of the airlines. He wanted to fly, he loved to fly. And al-Shehhi, only 23, said 'I would like to fly like every young man.'"
Dekkers says his connection to the two hijackers ruined his life, but he blames the federal government.
"Everything is destroyed by a few departments of the government, not by just al-Qaeda. They used me, they took me as a scapegoat, I think. Every year I still find out that FBI is checking up on me," says Dekkers.
"The DOT canceled my existing airline. That was a $4.5 million loss. Then the bank canceled my note. I could not get any money. I had to sell my flight school."
Dekkers estimates his loss at $12 million and since then, finding a job is nearly impossible. "They don't want to be associated with somebody who was associated with al-Qaeda members," says Dekkers.
"Guilty by Association" is the title off Dekkers' new book. His goal is to set the record straight. First there are the rumors Atta and al-Shehhi learned only to steer planes.
"We trained them from private pilot license to commercial multiengine rate. That's a six month course. It's not that easy," Dekkers explains.
Dekkers says Atta and al-Shehhi passed the FAA test and earned their pilot's license.
Then there's the rumor Dekkers and the two hijackers hung out together. Dekkers denies it, "That I went with Atta to several bars drinking with him... I had no social life with them, absolutely none."
But Dekkers knew Atta as a student and says six weeks into the program and he nearly got expelled. "He was not listening to the instructors. He was bad to our female employees. He was without any respect to anybody," recalls Dekkers. He also remembers Atta's lack of emotion. "We called him 'Dead Man Walking.' We didn't like him. Did we have any inclination he was a terrorist because we didn't like him? No. we didn't see anything. I wish we saw something.
"But al-Shehhi was not that way, however. He was a friendly young man."
Dekkers spoke before the 9/11 Commission on ways to improve aviation security. While improvements have been made, he says there are still loopholes.
"If a foreigner comes here with already a license in their pocket here, it's not checked whatsoever. He can rent an airplane and he can do whatever he wants."
As for Dekkers, he's trying to rebuild his business as an author and a public speaker. Dekkers says, "If I make more than I lost, I'll fund it to a 9/11 fund. I'm never going to recoup my loss."
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