By Jeff Price
Airport and airline security managers made their annual pilgrimage to Washington, D.C. last month for the TSA/DHS/AAAE Fifth Annual Aviation Security Summit. The American Association of Airport Executives, in conjunction with the Transportation Security Administration and the Department of Homeland Security, sponsored the conference, held on December 12.
The introduction of Kip Hawley, the newest TSA administrator, kicked off this year’s program. Hawley is the fourth administrator in an organization that has experienced one new administrator for nearly every year of existence. The seminar, attended by more than 400 industry professionals, featured comments from legislative policy developers and TSA staff on a host of subjects including registered travelers, secure flight, general aviation airport security and emerging technologies.
Hawley began by explaining the agency’s newest focus towards allocating resources based on risk assessments. This philosophy allowed scissors and small tools back on airplanes, but brought more focus towards searching for explosive devices in the terminal areas and in passenger luggage. Hawley says he’s taking a “systems approach” to aviation security, looking beyond screening and towards the entire security process.
With the latest TSA reorganization, Hawley hopes to create “one-stop shopping.” He hopes to reduce the frustration of airport operators who do not know who to call, or who must call several TSA personnel to get answers. He said the organization isn’t going to analyze past incidents to try to predict what future terrorist incidents will take place, but will instead apply the new risk-based models.
“We believe that the terrorist threat isn’t mathematically predictable,” said Hawley. “We will not base our activities on predicting what’s going to come next; that sets you up for failure. We have to address certain broad areas with very strong security, but we don’t want to get into the trap of having our resources in only one area.”
Screeners are being trained to observe people in terminal areas, utilizing a program called Screening of Passengers by Observation Techniques. TSA is also expanding the use of more K-9 patrols in the terminals, in order to deter attacks in public areas.
To help retain TSA screeners, Hawley gave them the title of transportation security officers, and is giving them preferential hiring into the Federal Air Marshal program. However, throughout the conference, nearly everyone, including TSA staff, continued to address these employees as screeners. This change could take some time.
One hot topic for airports involves a recent TSA decision to have airport personnel replace TSA personnel for after-hours protection of screening exit lanes. AAAE President Chip Barclay asked Hawley if the move isn’t just TSA using its regulatory authority to shift an economic burden.
“Our federal security directors have to work with the airports to decide how best to do it,” Hawley replied. “We’re looking at this in its entirety. It’s an allocation of resources. Six months from now, we won’t be talking about this issue because we’ll have moved on to another one. I think that’s a short-term problem and FSDs have to deal with it.”
The Registered Traveler pilot program received a lot of attention during the seminar. This program intends to reduce security delays for frequent travelers who have paid for and passed thorough background checks. Part of the challenge with RT has been interoperability, using the program at multiple airports, not only at the traveler’s home airport.
“If you travel for a living, you must always count on two extra hours at the airport,” said Hawley. “The good news is we’re talking about relatively small numbers. Six and a half million of the 700 million enplanements per year make up 40 percent of the travelers each year, and eight million travelers make up 50 percent of the annual enplanements. These are people who travel for a living, and they lose an enormous amount of productive time. If you can go to the front of the line, you gain productive time. You pay for what gives you value.”
If RT doesn’t reduce the screening process, what benefit, besides going through a shorter line, does it have? Many frequent flyers are able to go through shorter premium customer lines right now. TSA is researching options.
Jim Blair, TSA’s assistant director of security operations, provided some guidance on how they intend to improve the screening process. First, TSA is going through a fourth reallocation process to try to determine how many screeners each airport needs. Blair said TSA should be able to use more part-time employees to help fill gaps during peak times. Better technology during checked baggage screening can also free up additional personnel.
“Inline systems save 30 to 46 percent of screener staffing time,” noted Blair.
Time savings can allow TSA to reassign screening personnel to other duties. Unfortunately, many times those duties are administrative and not security-related in nature. TSA is also working to resolve that issue.
An upcoming screening challenge is the lifecycle costs of the equipment itself, particularly since the first generation of explosive detection equipment was essentially modified medical scanning equipment. The CTX machines were intended for low use and to be placed in controlled hospital environments, not in the high traffic, dust filled, hot and cold world of an airport terminal. Dr. Randy Null, TSA’s technology director and CIO, warned airports and industries about continuing to put more equipment in terminal buildings.
“Every time we get another threat, we get another box,” Null said. “We need more capability in the same equipment.”
General Electric is working on such a concept and presented their integrated fused technology screening checkpoint of the future. The checkpoint integrates metal detection with explosive trace technology and other elements of the screening process into a small number of consolidated units. A beta program is now in place in San Francisco.
Cathleen Berrick, director of the U.S. Government Accountability Office’s homeland security and justice division, presented information from several reports developed by her office regarding airport security. She noted that the GAO encouraged the risk-based, decision-making models TSA is now using. However, she said that as TSA continued to forward Secure Flight, the passenger prescreening program, they violated provisions of the privacy act.
Congressional staffers on hand believe that Secure Flight shouldn’t move forward until there’s an accessible redress process. Prescreening programs that incorporate the no-fly and terrorist watch lists continue to capture sound-alike or same names, while providing no clear way to remove names from the list. The fear is that Secure Flight will have the same problem.
The Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association, creators of the popular and progressive Airport Watch and 1-866-GA-SECURE programs, will soon launch a new GA security program. The tagline, “lock up and look out,” will encourage GA pilots to lock their planes and be vigilant about observing activities at their airports.
Airport managers must also be vigilant. In TSA’s latest reorganization, the general aviation security office picked up a new general manager, Robert Rottman, and about 30 employees. The latest project is the development of the Vulnerability Information Self Assessment Test software. GA airport managers can use the free online tool to assess security posture.
“Getting a high-priced consultant to come out and do a vulnerability assessment at a GA airport just doesn’t work,” said Rottman. “Airports have a challenge when it comes to funding. Furthermore, no one knows a general aviation airport as well as the individual who has the day-to-day operational responsibility of that airport.”
Centennial Airport Director Robert Olislagers is involved in the VISAT program. He cautioned GA airport managers who decide not to do a vulnerability assessment for fear that if risk is identified, a decision will have to be made to either fix the problem or perilously ignore it.
“If you didn’t know (that you had a security risk), you probably should have known,” said Olislagers.
VISAT can also help airport managers justify security measures. Olislagers noted that when he started the security process, many airport tenants told him what should or shouldn’t be done. However, airport managers, not the tenants, are held accountable if an incident occurs.
“I’ll be called on the carpet by my bosses, and they’re going to ask me what I did or didn’t do to cause the incident,” explained Olislagers.
Although the federal government hasn’t issued regulations for GA airport security, several states created regulations for their GA airports. This is an interesting trend, because the federal government has condoned these new regulations.
Much of the states’ legislation stems from the TSA’s Information Publication on GA security. In order to qualify for state aviation grant money, Florida and Alabama airports must have security plans in order. New York and Maryland have codified the TSA IP, and Virginia airports are required to post information about security awareness.
Summit panelists also stressed that airport operators should be proactive in GA airport security, because of “knee-jerk” congressional reaction to security incidents involving GA planes. In 2005, an intoxicated pilot took a joy ride in a Cessna 172. He eventually landed at Westchester County Airport in Danbury, Conn. Following the incident, Senator Hilary Rodham Clinton authored a bill that would require the Department of Homeland Security to assess the threat of stolen GA aircraft to large populations and critical infrastructure.
In another incident, someone stole a Cessna Citation 7 aircraft and flew it from Florida to Georgia. In light of both incidents, Olislagers addressed the actual threat from GA aircraft.
“What is the threat? We know that the 9/11 terrorists trained using GA and we know terrorists have looked at GA as an option,” he said. “But does a Cessna 152, with no kinetic energy, pose a threat? What if there are chemical weapons on board? Does it keep me awake at night? No. But we should look at the large GA aircraft first, then towards the smaller planes.”