Illegal drug runners have an easier time registering their private aircraft with the Federal Aviation Administration then the average motorist has obtaining a driver's license.
Shocking as it might sound, that's one of many allegations made recently to Congress by a federally protected witness who claims drug smugglers from Columbia, the Bahamas and the United States commonly list themselves as non-existent corporations with fictitious addresses.Sellers of small planes often leave it to buyers to change the aircraft's title. Hence, drug traffickers will sometimes leave the plane registered to a previous owner - even risking forfeiture of the aircraft if a dispute over ownership develops.
Some pilots are also convicted felons, but the FAA doesn't check into their backgrounds and doesn't even require a photograph before issuing a pilot's license.
FAA officials acknowledge there are loopholes in their regulations large enough to fly a small plane through. But they also point out theirs is not a law enforcement agency - having been created to promote air safety.
While tighter FAA monitoring wouldn't completely eliminate drug smuggling, most law enforcement officials believe a better paper trail on aircraft registration and pilot licenses would help.
To this end, the House Public Works and Transportation Committee deserves credit for taking the first step - inserting a little-known provision in this year's drug enforcement bill, recently signed by President Reagan, that gives the FAA 10 months to revise its rules governing small aircraft and private pilots.
The new law prevents registration of private aircraft to fictitious people and imposes criminal penalties for forging aircraft certificates and placing false markings on planes.
Not everyone is happy with the legislation. Legitimate private pilots complain the stiffer regulations will accomplish little more than increasing their costs.
While this may be true, the price seems small compared to the cost to the nation of an unimpeded flow of illegal drugs.