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Posted at 4:41 PM ET, 11/19/2010

Facing complaints, TSA changes security screening for pilots

By Ed O'Keefe

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."

Leave your thoughts in the comments section below

By Ed O'Keefe  | November 19, 2010; 4:41 PM ET
Categories:  Agencies and Departments  
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What does President Obama think of this issue and the actions of his TSA? What does the Tea Party think of these pat-downs? If our genitals are not private any more, do we have any real privacy left? Where is America going?

Posted by: nleggett | November 19, 2010 5:26 PM | Report abuse

In many of our large airports the pilots and flight att., if they have the airport ID, they can go to the level where baggage is taken to the planes without going through screening and get a ride to their aircraft. I stress without any screening. They will have a private security guard look at the ID and in most cases only check the date to make sure it is not expired. I have witnessed that they don't match the picture to the person. So security theater goes on.

Posted by: howierd1 | November 19, 2010 5:27 PM | Report abuse

This guy, Pistole, the new TSA head honcho? He is toast and will be gone within a month. You heard it here first(?). The guy has to go; he is a moron and a political liability now. Good riddance.

Posted by: jrw1 | November 19, 2010 5:40 PM | Report abuse

Good for the pilots. Now, what about all who serve in uniform and get shot at.... how come our ID isn't good enough? We're trusted by the Constitution and our background checks, but not trusted by TSA.

Posted by: tarheeler | November 19, 2010 6:08 PM | Report abuse

Are we in 1945 Germany or 2010 America? Many of our rights are being taken away.
TSA officers (government hired people) now have the right to do almost anything to us in the secured areas of airport terminals. We are forced to go thru pornograhic machines or submit to being groped by a TSA officer. Is he or she a homosexual or a pervert-who knows. It is time for Americans to say NO MORE.

Posted by: kenlucymiller | November 19, 2010 6:18 PM | Report abuse

Let's remember those Republican names. I thought the GOP was the "security" party. They are constantly saying the Dems are weak on security.

I have no reason myself to care either way. If it helps catch terrorists go for it.

However, if they do stop doing either the patdowns or scans, and something happens, it will immedidately be Obama's fault.

You can't have it both ways.

Posted by: myiria | November 19, 2010 6:28 PM | Report abuse

@tarheeler: 3 words: Fort Hood shooter.

Posted by: myiria | November 19, 2010 6:29 PM | Report abuse

TSA - Thanks for Saving my Arse :-)

Posted by: tsarocks | November 20, 2010 4:30 AM | Report abuse

TSA concerns about hidden explosives in underwear and shoes where based on the incident with Richard Reed from the UK, and the Nigerian student on the flight into Detroit last Christmas. Both of the went through security abroad. The Nigerian student went through security in Nigeria, before boarding a flight to Amsterdam, there he remained "Airside" not going through security again before boarding the Delta flight to Detroit.

These new TSA intrusive screening methods, will not prevent the two known incidents that that these methods are implemented to prevent. The whole thing amounts to money, somebody is getting rich of these machines, and there lies the real story. Aside from the attacks of 9/11, there has not been a single incident of an attempted sabotage that started in the US. As idiotic as it sometimes is, the system presently in place has worked in the US, so to use the so-called "underwear bomber" as an excuse to implement these new measures is false, since all the screening in this country could not have prevented that one.

Posted by: arieb | November 20, 2010 4:41 AM | Report abuse

Boycotts are ok but the real weapon we have against the TSA is our choice to not fly. You can get anywhere in the USA in 3 days or less by train and bus: What we should do is to refuse to fly. Until the TSA drops its full-body scans and invasive pat-downs I refuse to fly, PERIOD. Mark Montgomery NYC, NY

Posted by: boboberg | November 21, 2010 1:40 AM | Report abuse

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