Alphabets question value of screening for airport workers

 - June 1, 2007, 7:04 AM

House and Senate bills to require all airport employees with access to secure and sterile areas of an airport to undergo metal detection screening in the same manner as airline passengers is drawing criticism from the National Air Transportation Association (NATA).

According to NATA, H.R.1413, introduced by Rep. Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.), and S.1095, introduced by Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), could place heavy cost burdens on the Transportation Security Administration (TSA). If enacted, the law could also impose new costs on affected airport businesses, including airline service providers and FBOs.

NATA has concerns that a 100-percent screening mandate would divert resources from other aviation security programs and drastically increase costs for government and industry. The association argues that all TSA security initiatives should be based primarily on risk, and a mandate such as those proposed in the bills will require the agency to focus more attention on meeting the requirements than ensuring that our airports are secure.

Lowey’s bill would close what the committee called “a gaping hole in airport security.” It would create a pilot program whereby seven airports across the country would be required to screen all airport employees in the same manner as airline passengers. Two of the airports would be large hub airports; each of the remaining airports would represent a different airport security risk category, as defined by the TSA. After the six-month pilot program, the TSA would report the results to Congress.

Schumer’s bill would require all commercial service airports to begin screening their employees over a period from 2008 to 2010, depending on the size of the airports. Large hub airports must have such screening measures in place by next year, medium hub airports by 2009 and small and nonhub airports by 2010.

The House Homeland Security Committee said that in 2001, Congress recognized a flaw in security and passed the Aviation and Transportation Security Act, requiring that the TSA implement screening for all workers. More than five years later, the agency has failed to implement the policy or even set a deadline for doing so.

“It’s unfathomable that more than five years after September 11, a measure as fundamental and simple as this one has not been implemented,” said Lowey, who serves on the committee. “Meticulously screening passengers but giving workers open access is like installing an expensive home security system but leaving your back door wide open.”

Effective Employee Screening
On April 20, the TSA announced the formation of a working group in conjunction with NATA, the American Association of Airport Executives and the Airports Council International-North America to develop standards to maximize the effectiveness of screening airport employees.

The initial plan consists of six initiatives that will significantly improve employee screening and strengthen employer oversight of activities within the secure area of the airport. The TSA is forming a working group that will, over a 90-day period, develop specific plans for implementing the six initiatives.

NATA said it strongly encouraged Congress to observe the activities and recommendations of the government-industry working group before taking further action on the bills.

H.R.1413 has been referred to the House Committee on Homeland Security; S.1095 has been referred to the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation.

Meanwhile, Saudi Arabian intelligence officials prevented several trained pilots and other Al Qaeda operatives from conducting air strikes and car attacks targeted at oil terminals, airports, military installations and cities across the region. Although it appears that Al Qaeda intended to target airliners, NBAA recommended that all aircraft operators remain vigilant against possible security threats.

“In the U.S., Congress and [TSA] continue to scrutinize general aviation security,” the association said, “and NBAA will keep working to educate policymakers about the industry’s security record.”