The Transportation Security Administration, or the TSA, may be making major changes to their current airport safety protocol. In 150 small and medium-sized airports, there has been a discussion about “eliminating passenger screening.” A working group of 20 individuals has been discussing and debating this proposal. It wouldn’t affect a large number of travelers – only about 0.5% of those flying out of U.S. airports (which is approximately 10,000 people screened by 1,299 TSA employees every day). The role of the TSA is to enforce strict safety procedures which began after the terrorist attacks of 9/11 in 2001. Hence, the talk of a change is surprising for many.
There are financial gains to dropping passenger and luggage checks from smaller airports – up to $115 million saved annually. Those in favor of this change want to utilize this saved money to further support larger airports that serve more people. Those involved in this decision also say that by removing “screening at small and some medium-sized airports serving aircraft with 60 seats or fewer could bring a small (non-zero) undesirable increase in risk related to additional adversary opportunity.” Additionally, this suggestion seems to lead to a more streamlined security procedure at large airports since individuals flying into bigger airports (from smaller ones) will be screened at the former.
However, there are many who oppose this suggestion. Referring back to the founding of the TSA in post-9/11 America, many fear the implications of removing passenger and luggage screenings at small and medium-sized airports. Paul Cruickshank, a CNN terrorism analyst, is surprised that this proposal is being considered. He states, “Al Qaeda and ISIS still regard aviation as a priority target – that includes aircraft where you have fewer than 60 people on board. They would see that as a way to hit the headlines. They would see that as a way to inflict severe economic damage on the United States. If you have an aircraft of 50 or so people being blown out of the sky there is going to be a great amount of panic and there will indeed be significant economic reservations, and of course significant loss of life.”
In addition to Cruickshank, TSA officers (two senior, unidentified officers in fact) report “serious national security concerns” over this suggestion. Although the group claims that terrorists would be less likely to target smaller airports (due to a smaller “potential loss of life”), others disagree with this notion. One of these individuals is Juliette Kayyem, past assistant secretary for intergovernmental affairs at the Department of Homeland Security, who said smaller planes are also utilized for violence and attacks. She also recognizes the range of risks that can enter a plane including, but not limited to, “people, weapons, dangerous goods.”
Personally, I feel like the TSA should remain present in small and medium-sized airports as well as the larger ones. It is not a given that someone flying into a smaller airport will connect to a flight at a larger one and thus checked there. Additionally, this proposal has the potential to put people at risk. To illustrate this idea, the CNN article points out that two of the 9/11 terrorists went to an airport in Portland, Maine first before going to Boston and then getting on the American Airlines flight 11. Thus, there is a risk for terrorists to target airlines and aircraft as a whole for their attacks.
What is your opinion of removing passenger and luggage checks for small and medium U.S. airports? Would you feel safe if this proposal was implemented? What does this discussion mean for the TSA? What does it mean for national security?