It's time to be smarter about security

 - September 11, 2006, 10:34 AM

Anyone who has boarded an airliner since the latest terrorist attempt to use our aircraft as weapons has felt, once again, as if the traveler is the bad guy. I know that the security people must regard all travelers as potential terrorists, but there has to be a better way. I’m told that security procedures for those leaving Israel flow better than those used in the U.S., and the Israelis are under a much higher threat level than we are.

The pain for travelers doesn’t end at
the departure gate. When they get off the airplane, they can expect to wait longer
for checked bags to arrive at the baggage claim because the amount of luggage checked has gone up considerably without any increase in ground personnel to handle the additional workload. This adds yet another financial burden to the airlines in today’s difficult times.

This will also factor in the calculations behind air fares, which have increased fairly rapidly over the last few months. Labor and fuel are two of the largest cost factors in determining air fares, and both are extremely difficult to contain in today’s competitive environment.

I’m sure the next raid on the air transportation industry’s pocketbook will be an increase in security costs. Developing the latest and greatest machines to detect anything harmful will certainly be pricey, and the training and staffing will add to the burden. We now have additional security screenings performed at the departure gate. I travel to Washington, D.C., frequently and have received several pre-departure screenings recently. The extra screening certainly raises the question of why we need another check: is there concern that the initial screening was inadequate or accomplished in a substandard manner?

Time for a New Tack

Many of the frequent travelers
I have talked to believe it would be relatively easy to defeat the security process in place today. In fact, I met a traveler who inadvertently left his travel kit–including aftershave, shampoo and shaving cream–in his carry-on and made it through security.

I also wonder if the TSA has some information that terrorist organizations are using old ladies to execute their plots. That seems to be the only explanation for why they seem to be so often selected for the random inside-the-secure-area searches. I am not a big fan of racial profiling, but there is a role for profiling within some narrow boundaries. We certainly should take advantage of the benefits that this effort can contribute to the security of our citizens.

And then there is the cost. There continues to be an ongoing discussion about who should pay for these additional security measures. Should it be the federal government or should it be the air transportation system through fees or ticket taxes? Somehow I feel that whatever happens will impose more costs on the air transportation industry to provide security that protects more than air transportation.

The additional time now required to travel from the curb to the gate will make some people take their car instead of the airlines. I know a number of people in the Northeast who now take the train to and from New York rather than experience the joys of airport security, which include delayed or canceled flights as well as the long lines at the ticket counter or gate check-in.

There is one bright spot in all of this: business aviation is experiencing a surge of interest from a number of industry areas. Time is as precious a commodity for upper and mid-level management as it is for senior management. That fact alone can justify the use of charter or fractional ownership aircraft. Arriving three hours early for a flight often exceeds the actual flight time, and it is not likely that much–if any–of that time can be used in a productive manner. With today’s flights so full it is difficult even to open your laptop computer, let alone accomplish anything.

Time is money, and that fact will push some to use business aircraft to recapture this lost time. From all the predictions I have seen, business aircraft sales were on their way to new highs this year, and the new security measures could very well ensure this will happen. The VLJ market will benefit as well. Global business operates
at warp speed, and as a nation we cannot afford to have our leaders waste time cooling their heels at the airport.

Most important, we must use our resources and our ability to move airport screening to a higher level of effectiveness. This means using not only the most efficient and effective technology.

We must also confront the issue of using racial or behavioral profiling to focus our efforts on those areas that pose the greatest risk. We need to start discussing the proper use of this tool. Ignoring this issue only adds to our problems. The traveling public has its own perceptions of who constitutes a risk and has raised concerns on board aircraft, forcing the removal of some passengers just because they spoke a foreign language or because they come from a certain region of the world. The clear message here is that the traveling public doesn’t have confidence in the security process. Loss of confidence will destroy our air transportation system and the economic benefits it provides.