Facing complaints, TSA changes security screening for pilots
With complaints mounting about stepped-up airport security screening, the Transportation Security Administration is making immediate changes to how it screens commercial airline pilots.
Pilots working for a U.S. carrier who are on duty and in uniform will be exempt from metal detectors, new body-imaging machines and pat-downs by security screeners if they present two forms of photo identification -- one issued by their airline, another by the government, the agency said Friday. Screeners will check pilot credentials against a flight deck crew database that verifies employment status. They would still be subject to random screening, TSA said. The changes do not apply to flight attendants.
The change caps almost a decade's worth of complaints by pilots about the length of time it takes to get through airport security. Pilots and flight attendants are also concerned about potential over-exposure to radiation from new body-imaging machines being deployed at about 70 airports nationwide.
TSA Administrator John S. Pistole ordered a review of pilot security screening procedures when he joined the agency last summer, according to the agency.
"Pilots are trusted partners who ensure the safety of millions of passengers flying every day," Pistole said Friday. "Allowing these uniformed pilots, whose identity has been verified, to go through expedited screening at the checkpoint just makes for smart security and an efficient use of our resources."
"This sounds like a good dose of common sense," said Gregg Overman, a spokesman for the Allied Pilots Association, one of several unions that has pushed for the changes.
"The overarching issue for us has been it just doesn't make sense," Overman said. "You have a credentialed group of people who in a few minutes will have their hands on the controls of an airliner. You need to focus your finite resources on identifying legitimate threats."
Friday's announcement came amid growing criticism from the flying public and airline crew members about new security procedures. Though details remain under wraps for security reasons, transportation security officers have begun to conduct more thorough pat-downs of passengers, especially those who set off metal detectors or who decline to pass through new body-imaging machines.
Republicans set to take control of the House Transportation Committee said Friday that TSA should restrict the use of new security procedures to high-risk passengers.
"Treating every passenger as a suspect or criminal is an inefficient use of scarce resources," Reps. John Mica (R-Fla.) and Thomas E. Petri (R-Wis.) wrote in a letter to Pistole. Mica is set to chair the transportation panel, while Petri will chair a subcommittee on aviation.
The new pat-downs are "objectively better at helping us find the liquids, the powders, the gels that could be smuggled onto a plane and used to explode it," Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said in an interview airing this weekend on Bloomberg Television.
The new body-imaging machines also are better than old metal detectors, Napolitano said. "Remember, the walk-through metal detector was hugely controversial when it began, and now, of course, we don't even think about it," she said. "But that was because of the fear of hijacking aircraft. Now we have to deal with a terrorist threat of exploding aircraft and using non-metallic materials to do so. Our technology, our screening has evolved to help us compensate for that evolution."
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| November 19, 2010; 4:41 PM ET
Categories: Agencies and Departments
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