Partnering for Security

FirstLine Transportation Security has expanded its services in a federally dominated industry through the Screening Partnership Program.


The Aviation and Transportation Security Act of 2001 established the Transportation Security Administration as a ubiquitous force in airport security, displacing private screening companies that performed operations at airports prior to Sept. 11. As part of an ATSA provision, TSA launched a pilot program that incorporated private companies to operate at select airports with federal oversight. With the pilot launch, FirstLine Transportation Security Inc. ventured onto the competitive scene and has since expanded its operations to three airports — but the program has yet to gain traction throughout the industry.

Pilot partnership
“ATSA really redefined the whole environment for airport security,” says Gary Smedile, vice president of business development at FirstLine Transportation Security.

Prior to the events of Sept. 11 and subsequent passage of ATSA, private security companies contracted with airlines for screening operations at airports. The creation of TSA changed the landscape of airport security, as it assumed responsibility for operations at about 450 US airports. Private companies have been able to position themselves back into airport security with the advent of the Screening Partnership Program.

SPP was launched as a two-year pilot in 2002 by TSA. It was developed to fulfill the “opt-out” provision that was included to provide eligible airports with the option of integrating private security personnel with TSA oversight. “Per ATSA, TSA provides federal government management and oversight at each airport at which screening services are provided,” TSA spokesperson Carrie Harmon says. “Oversight is ensured by TSA’s federal security directors, who have overall responsibility for airport security and continue to be responsible for overseeing all screening operations and for ensuring that contract companies provide effective and efficient security operations.”

As part of the pilot program, TSA selected five airports. “For the pilot, airports volunteered and TSA selected five, based on a number of criteria and taking into account that we wanted to include airports of various sizes,” Harmon says.

The airports selected were Tupelo Regional Airport, Greater Rochester International Airport, Jackson Hole Airport, San Francisco International Airport and Kansas City International Airport.

The private companies were required to meet federally imposed criteria — the company had to be owned and controlled by a citizen of the US, and the employment standards of private companies had to meet federal employment standards.

FirstLine was selected to operate in Kansas City for passenger and baggage screening services. The company was picked from a list of private contractors. “When TSA first started awarding SPP contracts, we maintained a Qualified Vendor’s List of 34 companies that had submitted acceptable proposals and were eligible to compete for SPP contracts at individual airports,” Harmon says.

The pilot ended in 2004, and TSA opened the program to airports nationwide. “Since November 2004, airport authorities have been eligible under SPP to submit an application to TSA to use private contract screeners,” Harmon says. “All commercial airports with federal security screening are eligible to apply.” In 2006, TSA moved to enhance competition by opening the bidding process to all interested companies that met ATSA requirements, she says.

Since the ending of the pilot program, five additional airports are utilizing the SPP program — Sioux Falls Regional Airport, Key West International Airport, Charles M. Schulz-Sonoma County Airport, Gallup Municipal Airport and Roswell Industrial Air Center. The East 34th Street Heliport in Manhattan has also transitioned into the program.

In addition to its services in Kansas City, FirstLine was chosen to perform passenger and baggage screening at two of the joining airports — Gallup Municipal Airport and the Roswell Industrial Air Center. The company began operations at both New Mexico airports in October 2007.

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