The TSA Is Considering Eliminating Passenger Screening At Smaller Airports In An Effort To Save Money

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The TSA is apparently evaluating to completely scrap passenger screening at smaller regional airports that only handle commuter flights in an effort to save up to $115 Million per year.

According to an agency statement mandatory passenger screening isn’t the core mission of the TSA and multiple factors go into the assessment if locations receive continuous checks or not.

This statement is surprisingly a wholesale departure from the stand which the agency has taken ever since 9/11 and brings up questions about the validity of the risk assessment which went into the consideration which assumes that smaller passenger jets do not present attractive targets for terrorists.

On top of the safety issue which is obviously at the core of this entire discussion there are also practical considerations especially for connecting passengers. As this measure would only affect passengers originating from small airports and commuter / regional planes it would require passengers to undergo screening at a connection airport.

This would be a logistical nightmare considering that U.S. airports are currently equipped in a way that let’s all domestic passengers out into the general concourse after arrival. There are simply no facilities available to seal off regional passengers.

The entire story originates from CNN (access here) that has an exclusive story yesterday after reporters became aware of details surrounding this controversial plan.

The Transportation Security Administration is considering eliminating passenger screening at more than 150 small and medium-sized airports across the US, according to senior agency officials and internal documents obtained by CNN.

Internal documents from a TSA working group say the proposal to cut screening at small and some medium-sized airports serving aircraft with 60 seats or fewer could bring a “small (non-zero) undesirable increase in risk related to additional adversary opportunity.”

The internal documents from June and July suggest the move could save $115 million annually, money that could be used to bolster security at larger airports.

According to the proposal, passengers and luggage arriving from these smaller airports would be screened when they arrive at major airports for connecting flights instead of the current practice of joining the already screened population at the larger airport. The high-volume airports have greater capacities and more advanced security measures than smaller locations, the documents say. …

Two senior TSA officials, who asked not to be identified, expressed serious national security concerns over the proposal. They said the idea was explored as far back as 2011 and has been resurrected. The documents referred to some 150 small airports in addition to some midsize ones. …

TSA spokesman Michael Bilello said the study reflects a recurring debate within the agency about its legal requirements.

“This is not a new issue,” he said via email. “The regulations which established TSA does not require screening below a certain level, so every year is ‘the year’ that TSA will reconsider screening.” Bilello did not respond to a request for the text of the regulations.

The two TSA senior officials said the level of activity around the proposal this year — the formation of a working group to conduct a risk and cost analysis — mean this is more than an annual exercise.

It’s interesting that this is actually under serious consideration and not just this year but apparently has first been discussed back in 2011. The entire matter is on point though because if there is in fact no law that requires TSA to conduct these screenings then they operate in a grey area. Especially inconvenient is that it that the U.S. pressured countries worldwide in implementing security screening standard in order to be allowed operating flights to the United States.

Being able to fly without security screening was actually normality up to a few decades ago. Obviously times have changed and so has the security situation around the world. While most people find security screenings intrusive and often unprofessional it’s hard to say if passengers would be actually ok flying without any screening at all.

Conclusion

Logistical issues aside which would amount to a nightmare given the ailing infrastructure of U.S. airports, remodeling these airports to actually facilitate the new policy would cost a fortune far in excess of the savings proposed.

On top of that is the false assumption that terrorists only value large targets as worthwhile and don’t deem 60 people on a small jet plus whatever they hit on the ground as large enough. Terrorists blow up small targets all the time, they drive trucks into public gatherings and shoot up newspaper offices. Less than 50 people got killed in the 2015 Paris terror attacks so to come to the conclusion only large aircraft post threats is insane.

I highly doubt this proposal would ever come to fruition and lawmakers will be called upon in the near future to give TSA a legal mandate for a permanent mission.

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