Ultralight Smuggling Law


Looking at a satellite map of Arizona, one thing jumps out – there’s a lot of nothing near the border with Mexico. Miles and miles of unfriendly terrain. The landscape provides almost as much border protection as the actual border with Mexico. It’s one of the most hostile environments in the US and the kind of thing most of us would fly over to get somewhere else. And that’s the point of a new piece of legislation signed into law by President Obama earlier this year.

Smugglers find a lot to like in ultralight aircraft. These extremely small, agile, single person kite-like aircraft can be transported to the border with a trailer or pickup truck, assembled and loaded with a few hundred pounds of drugs. From there, it’s a short hop across the border where the machines can land on a dirt road or cleared patch in the scrub. And until HR3201 was passed, the penalties for doing so weren’t as harsh as using an actual plane.

The law, called the Ultralight Aircraft Smuggling Prevention Act of 2012, plugs the loophole for ultralights and simultaneously honors its sponsor – Representative Gabrielle Giffords, from Arizona. She was the congresswoman who returned after being shot in the head a year ago and subsequently resigned from Congress. The signing ceremony for this law was her last public function in DC.

The law adds language to existing bills to include ultralights under the general definition of aircraft. It also has an interesting “sense of Congress” section that outlines a strategy of mixing military technology with that available to the Department of Homeland Security for use on the Mexican and Canadian borders. (Full text can be found here.)

The law also gives us a peek at just how fast the federal government can act when they want to. The bill was introduced on January 23rd, passed the House on the 25th, the Congress on the 26th and signed by the President by February 10th.


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