TSA introduces new screening procedures

 - October 3, 2007, 11:29 AM

Business aviation may win a few more converts as a result of the most recent Transportation Security Administration (TSA) edict expanding the use of manual pat-down searches during “secondary” screening.

The TSA announced September 16 that new passenger screening procedures will increase the use of explosive trace detectors; authorize frisking of passengers even if the metal detectors are not triggered; and give screeners more latitude to refer individuals to secondary screening.

As of September 20, new TSA protocol will also require all passengers to remove their outer coats and jackets, including suit and sport coats, athletic warm-up jackets and blazers, for X-ray before proceeding through the metal detectors.

The TSA said the new procedures are designed to strengthen checkpoint screening of passengers and carry-on baggage and are in line with a recent recommendation of the 9/11 Commission Report that all passengers selected for secondary screening be checked for explosives. Passengers must continue to go through metal detectors and put their carry-on items through the X-ray; the extra measures will be applied to those people referred to secondary screening.

The new measures authorize pat-down searches of passengers “if warranted, based on visual observations.” TSA said these “limited searches” will be conducted as part of the secondary screening process. Pat-downs will be authorized using the palms of hands, as opposed to the backs of hands used previously.

While the 9/11 terrorist-hijackers did not use explosives, on August 25 two female Chechen suicide bombers boarded two separate Russian airliners in Moscow and are presumed to have blown up the two aircraft hours later and within minutes of each other.

Rear Adm. David Stone, the assistant secretary of Homeland Security for the TSA, said, “These procedures are consistent with TSA efforts to improve and expand the use of technology to screen passengers for explosives at airport checkpoints across the country.”

Since Dec. 31, 2002, 100 percent of baggage checked at the nation’s 450 commercial airports has been screened for explosives and other harmful materials before being loaded onto an airplane. Working with airlines and aviation authorities, the TSA is testing and evaluating new technologies, including portals and document scanners, that will detect traces of explosive particles on passengers.

Currently, five airports are testing the portals at passenger security checkpoints. This technology subjects passengers to puffs of air, which are collected and analyzed to determine if explosive residues are present. The pilot programs will help determine whether the trace-detection technology is appropriate for use within an airport environment.

Airshow Protection Legislation
Meanwhile, as general aviation continues to dodge pop-up TFRs preceding presidential campaign stops and special events such as last month’s United Nations gathering, Congress is considering a bill aimed at protecting the nation’s airshows.

The legislation resulted from the near-cancellation of the Cleveland National Air Show on September 3 because the Cleveland Indians were playing nearby. The FAA determined that the law requiring TFRs over Major League Baseball games meant the agency could not issue a waiver for the show.

After howls of protest registered in the nation’s capital, the FAA finally decreed that the military acts could fly during the ball game, but the civilian acts could not. So show organizers reconfigured the Friday-night lineup so that the civilian acts would be back on terra firma before the TFR for the game took effect.

Airshow organizers warned this could be the last year for the 40-year-old airshow if the interpretation of the law preventing operations near a sports stadium during a game remains unchanged.

At issue is Public Law 108-7, which prohibits flight within three nm of Major League Baseball, NFL or major college NCAA football games or a major auto race. In Cleveland, the Indians’ Jacobs Field is about two miles from Burke Lakefront Airport, the site where the Cleveland Air Show was being held.

To protect future airshows, Rep. Stephanie Tubbs Jones (D-Ohio), whose district includes Cleveland, introduced H.R.5028–the Secure Air Show Act–on September 8. It would allow the FAA to grant waivers for airshow performances that conflict with TFRs over nearby professional or collegiate sporting events.

H.R.5028 would amend P.L. 108-7 to provide the FAA authorization to review and administer waiver authority on a case-by-case basis in consultation with the TSA and the Department of Homeland Security.