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East Hartford crash brings pilot vetting process into question

HARTFORD--Tuesday's plane crash in East Hartford, which killed a student pilot, has been ruled intentional by the National Transportation Safety Board. Now, some are asking what flight schools do to vet prospective pilots to see if something like this could have been avoided.

Gary Ciriello, the owner of Premier Flight Center at Hartford's Brainard Airport, is a retired Hamden cop. In his capacity at Brainard, he has put his police investigative skills to good use in light of new federal requirements related to assessing those interested in becoming private pilots.

"We really need to be vigilant for anybody that comes in," Ciriello said.

Flight schools are now required by the Transportation Security Administration to train instructors to detect activity that is not conducive to aviation.

"Actions or any type of words that are not conducive to what we're doing in this industry," Ciriello says. "What we're actually looking for is some type of activity that would either be illegal or that would cause a safety issue."

He says they have never had to dismiss students from Premier Flight Center in his 10 years owning the business.

"We try to gather as much information as we can on a student, without getting personally invasive," he said.

A new law that took effect this past summer requires an individual interested in flight training to apply through the Federal Aviation Administration.

"The FAA, through the Transportation Security Administration, does a background check, but, the flight school doesn't have to do anything," according to Terry Keller, the chief flight instructor at Premier Flight Center.

"A U.S. citizen would need a passport, a birth certificate and a driver's license," said Ciriello, who took up flying 22 years ago at the age of 42.

The safety measures continue at Premier once their instructors and students are in the plane. They say they never put two people in a seat behind the pilot.

"We have been suspicious at some times that we feel that the pilot was in jeopardy," Ciriello admitted.