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Baby in Vegas! A 9-Year-Old Hops Flight from Minneapolis to Las Vegas

2013 October 7 by

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News is breaking today about a nine-year-old boy who slipped through security and made it on a flight from Minneapolis to Las Vegas.

Las Vegas

You will soon hear that the individual slipped through “airport” security but that is not entirely accurate. I am careful to use the word “aviation” security rather than airport security as apparently it seems that the boy managed to get through the screening checkpoint and onto the aircraft. Screening checkpoints are predominantly managed by TSA, and aircraft security is managed by the aircraft operator. The airport itself manages other access doors to the airfield, but not the screening checkpoints.

Since a nine-year-old kid can get through billions of dollars of layers of security I’m sure the question on many people’s minds is whether the system works. Well let’s look at a couple of things.

First, aviation security is kind of like holding a bird in your hand. You have to hold the bird tightly enough so that it does not get away but if you hold it too tight, you’ll kill it. Aviation security measures are designed to hold the bird tight enough to keep it from escaping but not so tight that it stops aviation entirely. This means there is some wiggle room and gaps in the system.

TSA has already said the children 12 and under do not have to take off the shoes at the checkpoint so under the risk-based security concept, they are not considered a higher threat to begin with. A nine-year-old moving through the airport is not really seen as a security threat. And before you start explaining to me how you can somehow convince a nine-year-old to carry a bomb or gun on a plane, you need to let me know how you can get a nine-year-old to even listen to you in the first place. I’m sure it can happen though – kids have been recruited to commit attacks in many conflicts throughout the world so we can’t completely ignore them as a security concern.

If the kid is savvy enough to tagalong with other adults and kids, thereby mixing in with the family. I can see where he could slip through the system. I don’t think we really want to go down a road where we have to prove the identification of our own children as we go through checkpoints, particularly since many of them will not have drivers license or even ID cards.

You could also argue that screeners and aircraft operator personnel are looking for more serious threats than a nine-year-old who likely looked like he was traveling with a family anyway.

That said, what actually bothers me about this is the unaccompanied minor issue. In my college days I worked as a contractor for a major airline, and part of my job was to oversee unaccompanied minors traveling through the airport. Many of us to took our jobs very seriously as we did not want to lose anyone, and in my case I had frequently traveled as an unaccompanied minor in my youth and wanted to make sure that the kids felt safe and well taken care of.

As always, there is good news. Screeners and airline gate agents will not be taking a closer look at whose boarding an aircraft, and this serves as a reminder that we may be 12 years after 9/11 but we still need to pay attention to gaps in the system.Without spilling into child custody case issues, which really moves beyond the domain of aviation security, there is another issue here and that is human trafficking. Airline security should include some basic measures, such as training to watch for unaccompanied minors or those who appear to be under duress and under the control of another, to reduce the potential of an individual trying to smuggle kids who are not their own, through the airport.

What will 2013 bring us in aviation security?

2012 December 27 by

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12th Annual AAAE Annual Aviation Security Summit and looking towards the threats in 2013
Hyatt Regency Crystal City
Alexandria, VA

The annual aviation security summit brought out a good line of speakers this year, featuring decision makers and policy makers, not notetakers and staffers, which always makes for a beneficial conference. Gold stars for AAAE’s Carter Morris, Colleen Chamberlin and Sarah Pilli for the great line up.
I’ve already shared the two key opening sessions and the special session with Senator Landrieu in other posts. This post is a bullet list of highlights from the other sessions and some perspectives on what we can look forward to next year in aviation security.


The TSA’s Risk Based Screening programs will continue to expand, both at the passenger checkpoint, and (hopefully) within airport security programs. RBS recognizes that risk will never be completely eliminated and efforts to be 100-percent perfect actually result in lesser security. The more effective use of resources is to focus less energies on lower risk threats which allows for more resources to point at the higher risks.
Customs and Border Protection is setting the standard for TSA to follow, with their Global Entry program. Global Entry provides expedited customs processing for international travelers returning to the United States. However, the program requires an interview by a CBP agent and there is about a three-month backlog. CBP may start using Federal Air Marshals to assist in the interview process. Expect to see this program expand even more in 2013.

TSA’s first real foray into RBS is the PreCheck program. Doug Hofsass, TSA’s Assistant Administrator for Risk Based Security discussed the three key goals that RBS had achieved this year – the launch of PreCheck, the launch and expansion of the Known Crew Member (KCM) program and a partnership with the Department of Defense to bring active duty armed forces personnel into the lower risk category.
Jim Williams, former director of the U.S. Visit program and now a senior vice president for Daon, noted that the future of RBS programs is the establishment of a biometric identity. However, while this concept has been around for quite sometime, Williams’ said the main problem with widespread expansion of any identity program is integrating new software with existing identification systems,“God created the Earth in six days but he didn’t have to do it with legacy systems,” Williams said.

“God created the Earth in six days but he didn’t have to do it with legacy systems,” Williams said.
The challenge in implementing any access control or personnel identification system into a U.S. airport, or any facility, such as government office buildings is that there are already access control and credentialing systems in place. This is an important factor when we start talking about the much battered Transportation Worker Identification Program (TWIC) program. TWIC came from the Maritime Security Act but TSA and Congress have explored the program within the aviation domain.

TWIC is now in use in the maritime sectors and a bit in the trucking sector. The major challenge with implementing it in airports, is that each airport already has a proprietary access control system. The larger issue is that airport operators are responsible for the individuals who are provided access to the airside. Therefore, airport operators manage the credentialing process themselves and are hesitant to allow another form of identification to be used on the airport – particularly one in which the airport operator does not know the level of the background check, or other risk issues that may be involved with the person.
Back to RBS: Hofsass, who has done an outstanding job with the program, noted that so far Known Crew Member has removed 60,000-65,000 individuals from the footprint of the screening checkpoint. An estimated total of 2.7 million flight crew and flight attendants have already passed through a KCM location. By February 2013, Hofsass estimates that we’ll be at 165,000 to 170,000 pilots and crew members per week that do not pass through a traditional checkpoint. That should both decrease wait times at screening checkpoints (even the employees don’t like cutting in front of everyone) and possibly reduce TSA staffing requirements.

“What that means is in 2013, 8.5 million screening experiences will not be done at the checkpoint but at the KCM portal and that’s just at the current locations where KCM is in place,” said Hofsass.
Presently, TSA is working with DOD officials to enroll active-duty military personnel into a risk based solution. TSA is also currently looking at other populations, such as federal government personnel and those that already have an airport identification badge.

Hofsass was asked whether RBS applied to airport security programs, not just passenger screening – he deferred the question as this isn’t his area of management. However, later, when Pete Garcia, Dir., Compliance, Office of Security Operations, TSA took the stage on day two, he led off with the answer. Garcia said he wants to move towards a plan that doesn’t require as much testing, but looks at the vulnerabilities in partnership with the airports and airlines. The inconsistent application of security regulations, Airport Security Program (ASP) approvals and the sometimes cookie cutter approach to inspecting airport and air carrier security management is a frequent source of stress with airport security coordinators (ASCs). ASC’s must often devote hours of staff time to producing records for the TSA and responding to letters from the TSA.

“If you have a great relationship with the FSD and you’re doing what you’re supposed to do, I see (audits) going down,” said Garcia.

Garcia confessed that when the TSA does their own self testing they score rather well, but when GAO does the testing, the scores are much lower. “As we develop the tests (presumably with the airport and air carriers) we will identify where the vulnerabilities are.”

Also in 2013, expect to see x-ray based systems continue to be the primary checkpoint screening technology. CT (EDS-style) systems are still too large and heavy for use at the checkpoints.  Body imagers, liquid threat detection and cast scanners are likely to continue to be the wave of the future.
The checked baggage security systems that first made their debut after 9/11, are now a decade old and showing their wear and tear. TSA is engaging in a re-capitalization program to replace old technology. Jenel Cline, Checked Baggage Screening Program, Ofc of Security Capabilities, TSA says they will conduct site visits with airports that are scheduled for recapitalization to work on the scope.

Nina Brooks – International Air Transportation Association Security and Facilitation Team, showed off the IATA checkpoint of the future concepts – it’s available on their website and will be the subject of a future blog.

One notable component came at the end of the conference – perimeter security. With all the penetrations of airport perimeters in 2012, TSA embarked on a study in September to assess best practices. TSA says it wants to share those best practices with airport operators and let the airport determine if they meet the standards. Federal funding is not likely to follow however, for airport operators that want to bring their perimeter security up to the industry standard.

I expect in 2013, perimeter security is one area that will receive more attention. Stay tuned on this issue.

One interesting note I have for next year did not come from the security summit, but from Mark Bowden’s newest book, The Finish: the killing of Osama bin Laden (Atlantic Monthly Press, New York, 2012). Bowden, known for his excellent works such as Black Hawk Down and Killing Pablo, noted that at one point in recent times, bin Laden asked his followers to launch more attacks on the United States, but there was no longer any way for al Qaeda to make the arrangements for a large style attack, like that carried out on 9/11.

“The 9/11 attacks had taken years to prepare, and had involved substantial international travel, long months of training, money and close coordination. When the plan had been set in motion, the group was a peripheral concern for the United States and the Western world,” Bowden said (p. 126). “This was no longer the case [post 9/11]. America had spread an invisible web of surveillance that registered seemingly everything that stirred. Death rained continually. It was dangerous for the organization’s leaders to move from one house to another, much less put another international plan in motion.”

Based on past experience, and if we take Bowden’s words here to heart, I would suspect that future attacks are going to be carried out at lower levels, single or small numbers of operators who may be ill-trained. However, these operators will likely have the advantage of also being U.S. citizens. Also, U.S. air carriers should continue to be vigilant in their security procedures. While the U.S. has become a much harder target than prior to 9/11, there is a history of U.S. citizens being attacked overseas, particularly on aircraft, and the difficulty of hitting the U.S. itself, may result in a rise of attacks on American’s overseas.

Airport Perimeter Security – is it enough?

2012 October 26 by

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Several recent airport perimeter security breaches have brought the issue into the public spotlight. Normally, such scrutiny is reserved for the “front door,” of aviation security, which is the screening checkpoint and largely the domain of the TSA.

The “back door,” employee access and perimeter security, is regulated by TSA but the actual protection and management of the systems are the responsibility of the airport operator.

The recent incident of an individual on a jet-ski, who was stranded and jumped the perimeter fence at the JFK airport – who has stated he tried to get noticed in order to receive medical attention. He eventually had to (according to public reports) contact a cargo worker and notify him of his presence. The question asked by the media and the general public is: what if this was a bad operator with intent to do harm?

Before we start installing triple fencing with razor wire, guard towers with spotlights and .50 caliber machine gun nests, let’s assess the risk of a perimeter intrusion.

The incident at Dallas / Love Field, where a drunk driver crashed through a perimeter gate and led police on a high speed chase across the airfield, highlights a safety threat. The FAA has traditionally been concerned with the risk of vehicles colliding with an aircraft, particularly during the takeoff or landing phase of flight. Therefore, a potential threat is a bad operator intentionally attempting to crash their vehicle into an aircraft on takeoff or landing.

A related threat would be the use of a car bomb on an aircraft parked at the gate or while operating on the taxiway.

Another threat is the risk of an individual accessing the airfield via the perimeter and introducing a bomb onto the aircraft. An individual could access the aircraft and plant weapons on board for use by a confederate(s) who has lawfully accessed the aircraft by purchasing a ticket and completing the screening checkpoint. Or, individuals could access the field via the perimeter and attempt to hijack the aircraft – however, it’s unlikely to ever get off the ground so I’m not going to pay too much attention to that risk right now.

Actually, several of these threats have already occurred in aviation’s history. There have been incidents where individuals lobbed mortar shells over the perimeter fence, snipers have fired bullets at passengers from off-airport locations, hijackers have accessed aircraft via perimeter gates (dressed as security or customs personnel) and catering personnel have stowed weapons on aircraft for later use by a confederate.

The existing layers of security for the perimeter include fencing with barbed wire, airport and airline personnel watching for individuals in the security areas without the proper identification and airfield patrols by police, airport operations and security personnel. The levels of security (i.e. patrols) vary by airport staffs and capabilities.

Presently, airfield access gates are not required to have pop up barricades but are required to be strong enough to stop or slow down most vehicles attempting to drive through them. Perimeter Intrusion Detection Systems (PIDS) are not required in the United States, although many airports, including JFK have implemented them.

There are some airports that meet very stringent security standards, such as the Ben Gurion Airport, which features at least 3 fences, including a monitored perimeter intrusion detection system (PIDS), closed circuit television monitoring and a separate security control tower. Some U.S. airports, such as LAX and Boston/Logan have installed pop up barricades at their perimeter gates as an added layer, while others, like JFK, have installed various forms of PIDS.

The TSA recently announced it was reviewing the perimeter security requirements, so efforts are already underway, and they should be. History has shown us over the past 11 years, that as it gets harder to get a prohibited item through a screening checkpoint, bad operators are looking for other pathways to attack aviation. Recently, we have seen suicide bombings at airports (Moscow, Pakistan) and air cargo bombs (Yemen).

So, what should we do?

There are a few steps airports can do right now. Increasing the use of armed law enforcement, unarmed security officers and airport operations personnel to patrol the airfield and additional training for all airport personnel in watching for individuals not wearing the proper identification in the security areas. TSA can increase the use of red teaming to identify specific vulnerabilities at airports, to fix the problems, not punish the airport with fines. Airports can adopt Security Management Systems (SeMS), which is a systematic program, closely related to Safety Management Systems, that puts security as a priority, identifies and mitigates known risks, audits the systems in place and promotes security throughout the airport culture.

Longer term solutions: I believe that the pop up bollards or other similar methods should be in place at U.S. airports. It helps solve both a security and a safety issue. I believe that perimeter security should be increased, both in terms of technology and “boots on the ground.” Technology, such as PIDS (when it works) helps identify an intrusion. Individuals patrolling the airfield can also identify intruders, help deter intrusions and put personnel in a better position to spot bad operators who may attempt to shoot down or laze an aircraft using surface-to-air-missiles, rocket launchers or laser devices. These basic security improvements will strengthen the back door to airport security.

TSA’s Strategic Plan for Risk Based Security

2012 July 25 by

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Blogging live from the Colorado Airport Operators Association, Annual Conference, 2012, Vail, Colorado (paraphrasing as necessary)

Douglas Hoffsass – Assoc. Administrator, Office of the Administrator, TSA

The Right Reverend Hoffsass continues his nationwide tour to preach Administrator Pistole’s risk based security programs, most notably, PreCheck and Global Entry. I, Deacon Jeff, will attempt to pass his latest message to you.

In a quick poll of the room, while most attendees are familiar with PreCheck and Global Entry, many are not members of either program (a fact which could be partially attributed to the fact that the Continental/United merger has slowed the deployment of PreCheck to Denver International Airport).

Pistole’s “values” with respect to new aviation security initiatives: they must

improve security, create efficiencies and reduces the burden on the user.

Before discussing PreCheck, Doug spun off into the air cargo and GA industry security updates. All cargo moving in the U.S. or flying outbound from the U.S. is now 100% screened, but not all cargo inbound into the U.S. is currently screened. TSA is currently working with CBP and the freight forwarding industry, to determine if TSA can know more about the shipment and the shipper, can that knowledge be leveraged so that their shipments can clear faster when they arrive in the United States.

While not calling it “secure cargo,” or “known cargo,” but trying to look at what is coming into the U.S. and who is shipping it and take a risk based security approach on inbound cargo.

General aviation: in 2008, TSA launched the NPRM on the Large Aircraft Security Program, and with nearly 10,000 comments, the message came back to TSA who then engaged with industry. The new document will not be called the LASP, but it did include industry engagement. It does still have to clear the Office of Management and Budget.

Doug said that without getting ahead of himself on the future rule making the new regulations would be focused on the following four areas:

  1. Pilots knowing who your passengers are
  2. Having trusted and vetted crew
  3. Ensuring that the aircraft is properly secured when the aircraft is unattended
  4. Setting a weight limit for security measures

Doug did not speculate when the NPRM would come out, but Kerwin Wilson, TSA’s director for General Aviation did note 2 weeks ago at the AAAE Annual conference that it would be unlikely to come out prior to the elections in November.



The benefits of PreCheck is that you get to keep your shoes on, get to keep laptops inside the bag, and get to keep a light jacket on, belts staying on, with liquids staying in your suitcase. Fifteen airports are online as of today, with upwards of 30 by the end of the year. Participants to specifically to a lane that is designated for PreCheck screening. Presently, there are now AIT’s at the PreCheck locations, due to the reduced risk presented by PreCheck members. However, TSA has been receiving some feedback that certain individuals prefer the AIT (specifically those with medical implants) rather than the walk through metal detector.

If you are a member of Global Entry (, through CBP (a $100 fee good for 5 years), essentially clears a passenger coming back to the United States, through an interactive kiosk and the time it takes, is less than a minute.

The TSA PreCheck process is an opt-in process on the airline website. When a passenger selects that option as the individual makes reservations in the future, there is an indicator encoded into the bar code on the boarding pass noting that the individual is a member. There are classified thresholds, for miles and/or segments and other travel characteristics that the TSA uses to determine an individuals eligibility for PreCheck. If the qualifiers are met, then the individual receives and “invitation” from their airline, via the airline reservation website.

While airports with PreCheck do provide a single-line for just PreCheck participants, TSA will not denigrate the screening process for other passengers to support the program. However, PreCheck lines are about two to two and a half times more efficient than a normal screening line, so as more passengers join PreCheck, the screening speed should continue to accelerate. While there are some relaxed screening procedures (shoes, laptops) TSA continues to conduct random screening of PreCheck passengers so that individuals cannot game the process.

TSA is working on more ways to bring people into the PreCheck program, and the vision of the future, is that 50-65% of the checkpoint of the future, we want to be PreCheck. The other side of the checkpoint will have passengers that are not members either by not being able to qualify for the program, or don’t want to provide background information necessary to become members.

As TSA wraps up PreCheck for Cat X airports (the large hubs), they will work towards Cat I and II airports (medium and small hubs), but for smaller airports, Cat III and IV’s, with only one screening line in some cases, the PreCheck program may have to look different. Those issues are still aways out and still being considered as it will be awhile before PreCheck comes to the smallest airport.

In response to questions from the audience, Doug noted that its not always about the number of checkpoint lanes that are available, but its more about the proper divestiture and recomposure set-up than it is the number of lanes, in determining the speed of the screening process.

By the way, it is important to note for this audience that Doug was one of the responders for United Airlines to the crash site of Flight 93 (something that I personally did not know until today) – he comes from our industry and has been an advocate for airports and aircraft operators during his tenure with the TSA and we appreciate his support.

Here endeth the lesson.

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Needles in Airline Food – What else is in there?

2012 July 18 by

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Recently, several sewing needles turned up in catered meals on Delta Airlines. While there are public health and safety concerns, and the FBI is investigating, it begs the question, just how secure are the catering facilities that bring food onto commercial aircraft. Also, consider that in one of the most famous hijackings of all time, TWA Flight 847 in 1985, caterers smuggled guns and grenades onto the flight so that the hijackers could successfully get through the metal detectors, then, once on board, retrieved the weapons from their hiding places in the lavatory and hijacked the flight. Could that still happen today?

It’s likely that the next hijacking will not look like that last. Box cutters, knives and fake bombs are unlikely to deter passengers who believe that they are about to die. However, could, as in a scenario presented in the cancelled TV show, The Unit, hijackers use smuggled submachine guns and actual hand grenades to overtake a flight? Possibly. And how would they get the weapons on board, so that they are accessible to the hijackers? Catering.

TSA does require that the aircraft operator ensure the security of catered goods. Aircraft operators have the responsibility to ensure that anything or anyone brought onto their aircraft has been properly screened or inspected. The exact guidance for how that is carried out is within the aircraft operator security coordinator security programs and to their defense, it’s extraordinarily difficult for the airline, through a physical inspection process, or even through an x-ray machine, to identify sewing needles. Also, individuals who access the airfield to deliver catered goods, must pass a fingerprint based criminal history record check and a security threat assessment. Additionally, most catering facilities have good security just from a health regulatory perspective. I remember the few times I had to conduct inspections at the catering area on the airport, and the security for the facility was tighter than the intelligence center I used to work at in the Coast Guard.

But, does TSA need to take another look at the security of catering facilities? What about the personnel that take the goods to the aircraft? Can another TWA 847 happen?

Body Imager Mythbuster?

2012 April 3 by

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With millions of hits a controversial video has been circulating the Internet in which an individual claims to be able to defeat the TSA body imagers. TSA’s response has been unsurprising in that they have not provided any real rebuttal to the man’s claims. But that is to be expected. To provide rebuttal, specific to this man’s claims, provides information to individuals who want to defeat the technology for criminal or terrorist purposes.

I know the video has been out for a few weeks and I have withheld comment so far. The problem is we have a claim on the Internet from somebody that I have never met, who claims to have defeated a body imager under conditions that no one but him really was aware of and he doesn’t have the advantage to see what actually was displayed on the screen. Additionally, we do not know what the TSA screener may have seen in the monitor and, whether automatic threat recognition was in use or maybe the TSA screener identified an innocuous item and decided to give the gentleman pass. Or maybe they did truly miss it. The fact is we just don’t know.

I have been to the Transportation Security Integration Facility in Washington DC and seen the rigorous testing that these technologies undergo. This is not to say that an individual, or even a piece of equipment, can fail. We know from routine tests of the system that people and equipment both fail from time to time. There is no such thing as a perfect system or, despite what presidential candidates want us to believe, a perfect person.

I would like to correct one point the gentleman made in his viral video. He believes that we should go back to the age of metal detectors. He claims that body imagers do not detect the metallic objects that metal detectors detect and further claims that nobody has tried to destroy an airplane by wearing a bomb. Both of these statements are untrue. To cite just one of many incidents in our history, in August of 2004, two female Chechen suicide bombers, concealing explosives in their brassieres, took down 2 Russian airliners. It was this incident that in fact started the use of the patdown technique, the trace detectors and the body imagers.

The trace detectors were rolled out for a period of time, but they proved to not be resilient enough for the airport environment. I do agree that in the future the trace detectors could be brought back, but when they were in use they required an individual to stand there for nearly half of a minute, which is an eternity in the screening checkpoint line. The body imagers have managed to get this down to about 5 to 6 seconds. While it is true that a metal detector detects metal (it does what it says on the box), the body imagers are also very effective at detecting metallics, ceramics, explosives and other types of objects, and in some cases can even detect objects beneath the skin.
This is effective technology. Does it work 100% of the time? No. But nothing works 100% of the time. That is why we have a layered security system. Technology and processes should be called out when they are ineffective, but in this case, this is an amateur version of the TV show Mythbusters, but without the science or academic rigor – in fact this would be a good episode for the real Mythbusters.

Is that you, John Wayne, is this me?

2012 January 25 by

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Look guys, pick a career, cop or pilot. Shortly after 9/11, airline pilots decided that the cockpit would be far safer if they were allowed to carry firearms. In response, the Federal Flight Deck Officer (FFDO) program was born.

Ever since its creation, a few thousand airline pilots have gone through the weeklong training process in order to carry a firearm while in the cockpit – now they want to carry it everywhere, including through the airport and while deadheading in the cabin.

This is not without precedent – early airline captains also were armed under the premise that they carried U.S. mail. There was a time in the country where mail carriers were allowed to be armed (Pony Express?) and those laws remained on the books for years. And yes, it is an irony that postal employees were allowed to carry guns, considering that’s where the phrase “going postal,” came from, but I digress.

Carry a gun in the cockpit as a last line of defense. Okay, I’ll go along with that. It’s sort of like defending your home. Frankly, if the plane is being hijacked and terrorists are storming the cockpit, I hope there’s a trained professional at the controls of the flight (that’s the first priority, fly the plane) and that just maybe there’s an armed pilot who can shoot back. I don’t expect the next hijacking to be with box cutters and knives – no, if there is another serious hijacking, it’s probably going to be individuals armed with firearms, smuggled onto the flight by employees, just like on TWA Flight 847 back in 1985.

But guns in the cabin? This will not make the cabin nor the flight safer.

Sorry, but it took me awhile to go along with the FFDO program. Please understand that a properly trained individual knows how to take a gun off someone. I only made it to level 2 of Krav Maga, and even I know the techniques and am not half bad at it, even several years later.

Every year police officers are shot with their own firearms, which is why protecting their gun in a fight is a top priority. FFDO’s receive one week of training. Federal Agents and State and Local law enforcement officers receive up to 14 weeks of training – that’s 14 times more training than the FFDO. While some of the FFDO training is on how to prevent someone from taking your gun, it’s not enough to protect that firearm in the cabin of an aircraft.

There is a valid argument to be made that armed FFDO’s could help defend an passengers if there was an active shooter incident in the terminal building. However, if there is an active shooter incident, FFDO’s will likely pull their firearm out of their locked container and use it. Obviously, it takes a longer to extract a gun from a locked box, than from a holster. However, what’s the greater risk – a 30 second delay in responding to an active shooter incident, where others (real cops) are supposed to be on hand and responding, or allowing untrained individuals to move through the public area with a firearm readily available?

We haven’t even mentioned the Congressional issues here, such as whether the FFDO will have any other law enforcement authority such as search and seizure, the ability to detain an suspicious individual, and so on.

If pilots want to be real federal agents, then go through the 14 weeks of training that real federal agents are required to undergo. And, go through annual re-training on self-defense and protecting your firearm – not just a one week course. Really though – if you want to fly armed, join the DEA.

Al-Qaeda “tweets” a panic attack

2011 September 5 by

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What does a woman in Mexico tweeting about non-existent school shooting attacks and a government warning about a plot by al-Qaeda to use small, explosives filled aircraft to attack U.S. targets, have in common? They are both efforts to create fear and panic, and to cause us to spend more money to chase our tails.

Click here for story.

Industry reps tell me that the neither the FBI nor DHS have issued guidance or warnings about this latest threat and from the language of the L.A. Times article, it reads similar to previous threats from General Aviation that have been issued.

In the Mexico City incident, individuals falsely tweeted about schools being attacked by gunmen, sending many people into a panic that shut down emergency telephone lines. In the “GA Threats” article, al Qaeda may be trying to achieve the same panic effect. Just by sending out some information that a plan to use GA explosives-laden aircraft to attack U.S. targets is in the works, or even the final stages, while likely not to cause widespread panic, adds to the overall fear factor. It may just fuel a community fire or political fires to put more regulations and restrictions on the GA industry, which alone adds $100 billion in economic impact to the United States.

While regulating general aviation aircraft, or causing higher security requirements (and thus, more cash to be spent) on “securing” general aviation may seem to be a small inconvenience to those outside of the GA industry, it’s one more expense, it’s one more “fear” for us to worry about, it’s one more pinprick, that is slowly eroding our economy and our civil rights.

In 1776 a group of individuals signed a Declaration of Independence. That document proclaimed freedom from oppression. At the time, the oppression was from a specific source. The Declaration though did not come with an expiration date, nor was it specific to one entity doing the oppression. It was a declaration from all forms of oppression, including al Qaeda and any other group or individual that seeks to deny our God given right to choose our destiny.


TSA vs Privatized Screening

2010 November 1 by

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The issue with privatized screening is very interesting and very misunderstood by the public. Pre 9/11, the screening was given to private companies who were contracted by the airlines at the lowest bidder. The standards were “upheld” by the FAA and those standards were far below the international standard for screeners in terms of qualifications, performance and training.

Post 9/11, the TSA took over screening at most, but not all, U.S. airports. There were 5 airports that continued to use private screening companies under a model known as the Screening Partnership Program,  more commonly known as “opt-out.” Those 5 airports continue to use private companies to this day and an additional 12 airports have opted out of TSA screeners since 2005. The reason most given for airports saying goodbye to TSA is customer service and waiting times.

This issue is coming back to the forefront today as TSA is on it’s 10th or 12th iteration of the Screener Allocation Model (SAM), which is their attempt at matching airport passenger flows with the amount of screeners that are assigned. However, the industry is seeing the failure of TSA in many areas to do this matching, whereas the private airports seem to have it down. Many of us in the industry expect to see even more airports opting out of TSA screeners in favor of private companies in the near future.

As for whether private companies are better or worse, it’s hard to tell, but here is some information to help consumers figure out if they are “safer.”

  1. Much of the world uses private screeners at their airports including Ben Gurion airport in Tel Aviv, and at London’s Heathrow airport. However, pre and post 9/11 these screeners were held to much higher standards than in the U.S. Since Israel is often pushed up as the “model” for airport security, I think it’s interesting to know that they rely on private screeners at the checkpoints.
  2. The GAO reports that in classified testing, the detection rate is about the same for TSA and private screeners.
  3. The “contract” model has changed. The airlines no longer have a say. If an airport goes private, TSA puts out an RFP and makes the selection. The screening company must then meet or exceed the TSA screening standards and the contract is managed by the TSA.
  4. Post 9/11, failed screening was pointed to as the reason 9/11 happened. There is debate on this as the items that the hijackers apparently used were allowed on aircraft pre 9/11. However, there is some debate about whether the hijackers used tear gas, which was not approved to be on a U.S. aircraft at the time. Regardless, many in the U.S. felt that screening was in need of a long overdue overhaul, and thus, wrapped up those changes in the post 9/11 legislation.

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Removing Security Screening from Airports?

2010 September 21 by

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There have been several reports in the news lately of airports across the country having their security screening equipment removed by the TSA.  This is actually pretty common as long as TSA is the owner of the equipment. Prior to 9/11 various entities were responsible for screening and for purchasing screening equipment. The airlines would often buy what they felt was needed, but if the airport wanted more machines than the airlines were willing to pay, then the airport would be footing the bill.

In 1996, as part of the Gore Commission recommendations, airports were required to purchase the Explosive Detection Systems and Explosive Trace Detectors; I remember actually picking out which ETD’s to buy when I was the assistant ASC at Denver International Airport.
In this case, the airport has lost it’s commercial service, which means the FAA has decided that the airport has fewer than 2,500 annual passenger enplanements (boardings of paying passengers). The FAA does not make such decisions lightly and will often give airports years to rebuild their air carrier service before declaring that the airport is no longer a commercial airport.
When an commercial service airport is no longer a commercial service airport, it becomes a General Aviation airport. Since GA airports are not presently required to have screeners or screening equipment, the move on it’s face does not seem to have a big impact. The downside however, is that when the airport is attempting to entice new air carrier service, it’s always nice to see that the airport has the equipment necessary for the job instead of waiting on a TSA purchase order to replace the equipment.
If I was that airport manager, I would be upset at the move, although I would also understand why it’s being done. If I’m showing off my airport to attract service I’d like to see some furniture in the place, just like Realtors like to see some furniture in a home that’s for sale — it increases the value.