The Mexican drug cartels have now taken to the friendly skies using ultra-light planes in order to smuggle their illicit narcotics into the United States.
There have been reports of 30-50 ultra-light flights per week just east of San Diego near Tecate, Mexico. However, Border Patrol Agent Michael Jimenez says the numbers of official reports are lower.
By using unskilled pilots to fly low and elude radar, cartels have found another method to smuggle 150-200 pounds of marijuana into the mountainous East San Diego terrain.
Agent Jimenez says the shift in smuggling efforts is a result of tougher enforcement on the ground. “The cartels have turned to this dangerous method of transportation because border security has improved.”
He also noted that this new smuggling method is a concern and they are working with Customs and Border Protection (CBP) as well as Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to prosecute cases. “Our multi-agency teamwork, including the Mexican government, ensures that the U.S. is working aggressively to stop these smugglers,” Jimenez explained.
According to U.S. Border Patrol, records have been kept regarding ultralight incursions dating back to 2009. “In 2009 we had 118 confirmed events. 2010 showed an increase of ultralights to 228 and so far this year there have been 71 events through March,” he said.
Typically ultralights look a lot like hang gliders with engines attached and agents report they sound like a household lawnmower. Also these particular aircraft have been detected by U.S. Predator UAVs operated by Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and Border Patrol Agents said they have even seen crashed ultralight planes along the U.S./Mexico border region.
The light-weight kit planes are easily purchased, relatively inexpensive and the cartels don’t need a combat pilot to traverse the U.S./Mexican border.
Quad City Ultralights advertises on their website that ultralights are reasonably priced at $20,000, about one quarter of the cost for a traditional plane. The only drawback for cartels is the ultralights don’t have the ability to transport drugs by the ton and most carry less than 300 pounds.
Once a novelty, ultralights have shifted the dynamic of Border Patrol tracking and smuggling rings.
Land owners along the southwest border have also seen and heard the drug cartel ultralights flying low and dropping their loads to waiting smugglers inside the U.S.
Jimenez urges residents who see or hear any unusual aircraft to call the Air and Marine Operations Center, who tracks all the radar along the southwest border, at 866-AIRBUST. All tips are kept confidential and authorities welcome information from residents along the border.
The only question remaining is who gets the frequent flyer miles?
© Copyright 2011Kimberly Dvorak All Rights Reserved.
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