Tsa Faces Long, Hot Summer


Nov 9, 2003
Air Transport
TSA Faces Long, Hot Summer with 45,000 Screeners
Aviation Week & Space Technology
06/28/2004, page 37

David Hughes

Security bottlenecks could prompt long delays and frustrate passengers during peak periods

U.S. Homeland Security Dept. officials don't know if lengthy delays will develop at security checkpoints this summer, but there are no plans to expand the screener workforce or accelerate financing of airport reconfiguration.

Asa Hutchinson, Homeland Security undersecretary for border and transportation security, told a Senate committee last week that 600 million travelers are expected to pass through U.S. airports this summer, exceeding pre-Sept. 11, 2001, numbers. But Congress has capped the screener workforce at 45,000 full-time-equivalent employees, and it would take action on Capitol Hill to lift the ceiling. After a hearing with the committee on commerce, science and transportation, Hutchinson told the press he isn't sure whether the department would seek a statutory change if long delays develop.

A key issue is whether the Transportation Security Administration screeners can handle large crowds of passengers during peak travel periods at the 429 airports in the U.S. where they are stationed. A preview of possible summer scenarios occurred on the Tuesday after Memorial Day at Atlanta Hartsfield Jackson Memorial airport when vacationers and business travelers jammed into security screening lines of up to 2 hr.

The Air Transport Assn. (ATA) reports that security lines of 45 min. and more are occurring now at major airports such as Washington Dulles, Los Angeles, Las Vegas McCarran and Atlanta Hartsfield. The industry has worked with the TSA to develop a summer plan and to educate passengers on how to pack and what to do in security lines to expedite processing. As part of this effort, the TSA identified 25 airports that need to enhance passenger screening with best practices designed to speed up processing.

The TSA has been criticized on Capitol Hill for being inflexible in the way it manages the screeners, who must be hired and trained at the national level rather than locally. The TSA has just started some pilot projects aimed at developing procedures for federal security directors at airports to handle hiring issues on the local level.

One way to reduce the need for TSA screeners and improve screening efficiency is to install explosive detection systems in-line on baggage conveyor systems rather than in airport lobbies. Dozens of airports have applied to the TSA for letters of intent under which the federal government promises to pay for about 70% of the cost of installing such machines. But so far TSA has only approved eight such letters.

Thomas J. Kinton, Jr., director of aviation at the Massachusetts Port Authority, told the committee that when long lines develop, especially during summer and holiday seasons, the culprit is invariably inadequate staffing at security checkpoints. "Chronically long lines are a problem we absolutely must address. Nothing is more certain to discourage travelers from returning to the nation's airports than long, frustrating delays at terminal checkpoints," he said.

Boston's Logan International Airport was one of the first in the country to install EDS machines in-line on baggage conveyor belts and to modernize its security checkpoints. Logan also eliminated passenger bottlenecks by installing additional X-ray machines at select security checkpoints.

But Kinton noted that Massport had to commit $146 million of its own money to the project and then seek federal reimbursement after the fact rather than waiting for up-front approval. This was the only reason the "monumental engineering feat" was accomplished in two years by an army of workers, Kinton said.

James C. May, president and CEO of the ATA, told the committee "it would be difficult to overstate the degree to which security has come to dominate U.S. airline operations." And while he says security is better than ever, the industry is "staggering under the weight of security taxes and post-Sept. 11 security-related mandates." Airlines and passengers pay four separate fees to help fund Homeland Security Dept. operations, including in calendar 2004: $1.59 billion for a Sept. 11 fee; $315 million for the aviation security infrastructure fee (ASIF), the amount based on what airlines spent on passenger and baggage screening prior to Sept. 11, 2001; $464 million for the INS inspection fee; and $209 million for the customs inspection fee. Direct and indirect costs (lost revenue such as that for providing seats for federal air marshals) total $3.8 billion annually, May said.

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), chairman of the committee, said the TSA needs to use technology more aggressively to make the system foolproof while speeding up the screening process and possibly even reducing costs.

Hutchinson said in the long term the department is pursuing three broad areas to improve security and reduce passenger inconvenience:

*Develop advanced technology to make screening operation more effective, efficient, quicker and less costly.

*Help fund major reconstruction and reconfiguration of airports to accommodate the use of explosive detection systems in-line on baggage conveyor belts rather than in airport lobbies. It is unlikely this effort will be accelerated unless, as Hutchinson suggested, airports finance the improvements on their own and seek federal reimbursement later.

*Better use information to focus screening resources. This includes everything from the use of passenger name record information from airlines flying to the U.S. from Europe (as agreed to by the European Union recently) to the Computer-Assisted Passenger Prescreening System (Capps-2) for checking passengers on domestic flights. Capps-2 has bogged down in a privacy law controversy and Hutchinson said it is still in development. If Capps-2 can't be implemented, McCain said the TSA will have to come up with some sort of system to do preliminary screening "so that all of the stress of screening isn't focused on passenger checkpoints."
What I find amazing is after all this nonsense, the gov't is now allowing private screeners back into airports. So, can someone explain why we just spent all this money only to go back to the original system anyway?!

Ok, rant done ... some things are better left alone. :rolleyes:
IIRC, 4 airports have used private screeners since 9/11. A recent audit showed that these screeners were as good or better than the TSA in several areas of performance.
flyin2low said:
IIRC, 4 airports have used private screeners since 9/11. A recent audit showed that these screeners were as good or better than the TSA in several areas of performance.
Isnt it funny how reports always leave out where they were better in performance. Was it speed or weapons detection, can you guess which I prefer they be better at?
FA Mikey said:
Isnt it funny how reports always leave out where they were better in performance. Was it speed or weapons detection, can you guess which I prefer they be better at?
IIRC also, the private screener performance was no worse than the TSA's ... but it was not significantly better (lots of test weapons getting through etc.)
good thing we finally go back to private screeners! :up: Nothing governmental in anything that should be privatized (social security, medicare, medicade, government organizations to help the poor, airport screening ect.) works! This is a relief! :D
Posted on Jun 29 2004, 09:48 AM

I see the very thing my uncle ran onto the beaches to prevent. The breakdown and dilution of our civil liberties in the name of security.
I wholehearted agree. What frightens me the most, is that when people see the shoe Nazis taking nail files away from grandmothers, most people "feel" safer and "more secure". I'm amfraid that the old axiom is true. Most cultures get the government that they deserve.

Light Years
Posted on Jun 29 2004, 12:21 PM

I agree. The government has pounced on the "opportunity" of 9/11 to finally take away all of the civil liberties they've been wanting to.
Actually the current regime has actually converted your liberties into privileges. That way they can grant and rescind at whim.
The TSA in my hometown is utterly ridiculous. It takes 5 of them. 5!!!! to get 19 people through security. One day I stood in line for over 1/2 hour to board only 12 people. The practically stripped searched EVERY single person. They know my job and they still rummage through my luggage and purse Everytime. I know, they are "just" doing their jobs. But hells bells. Enough already.

Before 911 the CSA's did it all and did it thoroughly and expediantly. There was just 2 of them. Although I am glad for those guys that they don't have to deal with the security issues anymore. I am sure it makes there job easier.

I think one of these days I am going to wrap a towel over my head and see what happens. :lol: :p
Did you also know that sometime this November, each airport has the option to continue TSA or switch to an approved private company?