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Reason Foundation

Airport Policy and Security Newsletter #2

Topics include: airport passenger screening, rethinking checked-baggage screening, and baggage processing.

Robert Poole
March 1, 2003

In this issue:

More Flexibility in Airport Passenger Screening Proposed in New Study

Congress needlessly restricted the scope for innovative approaches to airport passenger screening when it permitted only five airports to opt out from direct federal provision of airport passenger screening. In a policy study released today, Reason Foundation is proposing that the five-airport pilot program be expanded and broadened. First, we propose a more realistic sample size of 10%. With 429 airports under the mandate, that would be 40+ airports allowed to opt out (instead of only five). Second, we propose expanding the scope of the opt-out to baggage screeners (where the Transportation Security Administration is very far behind on hiring) as well as passenger screeners. And we make some further recommendations about the longer-term picture and TSA's role after November 2004, when all airports will be allowed to opt out of the federal workforce. You can download the full text of the study by clicking on www.reason.org/ps298.pdf.

A number of airport directors believe the best approach to ensuring the security of their passengers is to be able to hire a federally certified security contractor that will tailor its operations to the airport's unique needs. Airports that have said they would be interested in taking advantage of an expanded opt-out program include: Charlotte, Denver, Fresno, Great Falls, Guam, Lehigh Valley, Oakland, Orlando Sanford, San Diego, Savannah, and Washington-Dulles. In addition, Louisville has told us that even though they are satisfied with TSA's screening operation, they would like to have the opt-out option, as well. And we know that many people would still like to see New York's JFK get a second chance to implement their innovative idea of having passenger screening carried out by a security firm staffed by retired law enforcement officers.

House Aviation Subcommittee chairman John Mica has commended the study, saying "Clearly, the pilot program for private sector screening needs to be expanded." It has also been praised by Sen. Richard Shelby, ranking member of the Senate Transportation Subcommittee. And yesterday, we were told that Sen. Larry Craig will offer an amendment to expand the pilot program.


Previous Study Having Large Impact

Our first major airport security study—"Rethinking Checked-Baggage Screening"—was released in early July. It received excellent coverage in the general media (e.g., a Los Angeles Times feature story, two features on CNN, etc.) and extensive coverage in the aviation and security trade press. We argued that the Dec. 31, 2002 deadline is impossible for many airports to meet and that the mandate for EDS and ETD forces the purchase of high-priced but mediocre technology. Chairman Mica strongly endorsed our recommendations, and within weeks the House passed a bill to extend the deadline to Dec. 31, 2003 . TSA chief John Magaw was fired by DOT Secretary Mineta. Magaw's successor, Admiral Loy, yesterday indicated that he would help Sen. Ensign craft a bill that would exempt 20 to 40 of the largest airports from the deadline. If you missed this study in July, you can find it at www.reason.org/ps297.pdf.


Thinking Outside the Box on Baggage Processing

What if you didn't have to schlep your checked baggage to the airport, and wait in line for it to be passed through the new ETD or EDS machines, supposed to be in place by Dec. 31st? Several private companies are attempting to make a business out of delivering the bags and getting them through security for you.

The most ambitious of these is California start-up Baggage Direct (http://www.baggagedirect.com/). Its idea is that passengers would arrange for advance pickup of their suitcases 12 to 24 hours before flight time. A certified courier would tag each bag with the equivalent of an electronic toll-tag, and also either make a digital photo or take a biometric identifier (e.g., a fingerprint) of the passenger. The bags would be delivered to the airport for baggage screening during off-hours, hence easing the peak-hour workload. This would also provide plenty of time, if something suspicious is detected in the bag, to summon the passenger when he/she arrives at the airport for a physical search of the bag. Estimated price is under $25. BD tells us that TSA has expressed interest in a pilot test, with a willing airport and airline. They have been talking with Alaska and United, and with airports in Arizona, California and Florida.

Two other start-ups have focused on hotels as a point of contact for bag check-in. Certified Airline Passenger Service operated for about two years at 13 hotel locations in Las Vegas . They provided multi-airline check-in counters in hotel lobbies, where passengers could check their bags and pick up boarding passes, thereby avoiding check-in lines at the airport. But the service fell victim to the post-9/11 ban on curbside check-in. When the FAA finally authorized CAPS to resume service, its new regulations proved too costly and CAPS ran out of money and suspended service. However, a similar service is being attempted in Orlando this summer. Baggage Airline Guest Services is working with two hotels near the convention center and American and Delta Airlines. At last report, they were still awaiting final TSA approval.


Robert Poole is Searle Freedom Trust Transportation Fellow and Director of Transportation Policy


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