Experts weigh in on process to obtain Visa for pilots license - WFSB 3 Connecticut

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Experts weigh in on process to obtain Visa for pilots license

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Feras Freitekh. (Facebook photo) Feras Freitekh. (Facebook photo)
Arian Prevalla. (Facebook photo) Arian Prevalla. (Facebook photo)

The fiery crash in East Hartford is one people will not soon forget…the federal government continues its investigation, and so far officials say the motive appears to be suicide.

The investigation has Eyewitness News examining the process of obtaining a Visa to learn in the United States, and the mental health checks that are done before someone takes to the skies.

Based on photos from his Facebook page, student pilot Feras Freitekh, a Jordanian national, appeared to simply have had a passion for flying.

He was killed in the crash that happened on Main Street last month. His instructor, Arian Prevalla, survived the crash.

Freitekh earned his license for a single engine plane from American Flight Academy in May of 2015 and he was on his way to get his license for a twin-engine when this crash happened.

Right now, the FAA says it appears to be intentional, with signs pointing to a suicide attempt.

“It’s a serious business in many senses, and we take it that way,” said John Lampson, of Premier Flight Center.

Brainard Airport has two flight schools: American Flight Academy, the one Freitekh attended, and Premier Flight Center.

Lampson is an instructor and listed the steps U.S. residents need to take before taking to the skies.

“Proof of passport, birth certificate, photo ID, that sort of thing,” Lampson said.

But for international students, the screening comes well before the student even steps foot in the flight center, and even before stepping foot on American soil.

It happens during the vetting process done by the Department of State. They grant Visas.

The Department of State wouldn’t comment specifically on Freitekh’s application, but did say each are reviewed individually and applicants undergo security and counterterrorism screenings that include fingerprint and facial recognition checks, but also in-person interviews, where consular officers are trained to spot red flags.

The Department of State can refer an applicant to a physician “if the officer has reason to believe that the applicant has a mental disorder, and behavior associated with that disorder may pose, or has posed, a threat to the property, safety, or welfare of the individual or others.”

Schools trust the government to do a thorough job of vetting during the Visa process, but for all pilots, citizens or not, health screenings happen before a license is granted.

The FAA requires medical screenings performed by an independent aviation medical examiner.

“Questions of depression, perhaps, or suicidal thoughts,” Lampson said.

It may be brief, but since Freitekh got his license, Lampson says he must have had a test.

“The instructor is not getting out of the plane until you have that,” Lampson said.

To stay current, all are done annually. For pilots over 40, it’s every six months. They cover psychological conditions, but it’s the responsibility of the pilot to tell the truth…disclosing any physical or psychological condition.

Lampson says the tests are rigorous, there’s just no foolproof way to ensure someone won’t fall through the cracks.

“Anybody can keep it together for a while, under any circumstance, I don’t know,” Lampson said.

The FAA says psychosis or bipolar disorder would automatically disqualify someone from getting clearance, but other issues are treatable, and if a pilot shows they’re better, the FAA will address each pilot on a case-by-case basis.

Due to privacy laws, the FAA does not release medical records on living pilots.

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