Bill Cracking Down On Ultralight Smugglers Glides Through Senate

An ultralight aircraft apprehended by U.S. Customs and Border Protection in Southern Arizona in 2008. The aicraft was carrying 223 pounds of marijuana according to CBP.
By Jude Joffe-Block
December 13, 2011

LAS VEGAS -- The U.S. Senate has passed a bill that would crack down on drug smugglers who fly across the border on ultralight aircraft. Senators unanimously approved the bill late last week, and now the legislation moves to the U.S. House of Representatives.

Senator Tom Udall, a Democrat from New Mexico, says that as drug trafficking techniques evolve, so must our laws. The bill he co-sponsored would allow harsher sentences for traffickers who drop parcels of drugs from ultralight aircraft that they fly over the border.

Such flights are reportedly on the rise, but a loophole in the law prevents ultralight pilots from receiving the same penalties as other traffickers.

"To me, it is crazy that drug traffickers using ultra light aircraft get off easier than smugglers using an airplane or an automobile," said Udall. "And that is exactly what my bill fixes."

The bill would unify the penalties for drug trafficking at 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine, regardless of whether smugglers used a plane, a car or an ultralight. It would also allow prosecutors to charge people with conspiracy who help arrange ultralight flights.

Nevada Republican Dean Heller co-sponsored the Senate bill. Arizona Democratic Congresswoman, Gabrielle Giffords, introduced the same legislation last session before she was shot in the head during a mass shooting in Tucson that left six people dead and injured another 14.