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British pilot now not allowed to fly at all

Thursday September 22, 2005
BOSTON (AP) A Cape Air pilot and British citizen who was barred from learning to fly larger planes because federal authorities determined he was a potential national security threat, says he can now no longer do his job because he has been put on the federal no-fly list.

Robert William Gray, 35, sued the federal government in July after he was denied permission from the Transportation Security Administration to take flight training courses so he could fly larger planes. The TSA said in its rejection that Gray poses a ``threat to aviation or national security.''

In federal court on Wednesday, Gray's lawyers argued that by placing him on the no-fly list, the government is retaliating because of his lawsuit, and asked a judge to order the government to take him off the list.

But U.S. District Judge Douglas P. Woodlock said he lacks jurisdiction over the matter, which must be decided by a federal appeals court.

Gray, a native of Belfast, Northern Ireland, has been living in the United States since 1993 and has been flying small commercial planes since 1997. For the last four years, he has been flying for Cape Air, and has occasionally carried Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, D-Mass., and U.S. Rep. William Delahunt, D-Mass., on his flights.

A couple of weeks ago, Cape Air officials told him he could no longer pilot planes because he was on the no-fly list, essentially meaning he is unable to do his job.

``I haven't been involved in any kind of terrorism, and I have never committed a crime,'' said Gray, who lives in Yarmouth.

``Ever since I came here I have loved this country for what it stands for, and this goes against everything that I've learned about this country and how it treats people,'' he said.

Federal prosecutors, citing national security concerns, refused to confirm in open court that Gray is even on the no-fly list. They said the government would only disclose its reasons to the judge privately without sharing them with defense lawyers.

Prosecutors denied claims of retaliation.

When Gray was denied permission for further flight training, he was told only that the decision was based on derogatory information that the agency would not disclose because it is classified.

Since terrorists used commercial jets in the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, the government has reviewed all foreigners who apply for flight training.

He said in his lawsuit that he thinks he is a victim of mistaken identity.

Gray said the TSA did not explain the reason for his rejection, but did provide a printout from a U.S. Customs computer that indicated Gray was Hispanic. Gray is white.

``If they can't get that right, then what else have they got wrong?'' Gray said outside of court on Wednesday.

Gray is getting married to a U.S. citizen next month, but his fiancee says the couple have had to cancel plans to visit Gray's mother in Ireland and a honeymoon in Italy.

Information from: The Boston Globe,
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