Orlando Int'l Airport Considers Privatizing Security

Jul. 15--Officials at Orlando International Airport are studying the idea of tossing out the Transportation Security Administration in favor of a private company to run the airport's security checkpoints.

Deputy Executive Director Chris Schmidt said the airport formed a task force to evaluate the idea, but doesn't plan to make a decision for several months.

"It's a combination of things," Schmidt said of the reasons behind the study. "The security wait times, the efficiency and operation of the airport -- and Congressman [John] Mica has encouraged us to take a look at it."

Mica, chairman of the House Aviation Subcommittee, has long said airports should hire private security and reiterated that position Friday for Orlando International.

"They'll never get it right with the government running the whole thing," said Mica, R-Winter Park.

TSA spokesman Christopher White said Orlando International has not formally applied for what's known as the Screening Partnership Program, which allows airports to take their checkpoints private.

Oversight of those programs, however, still falls to TSA. Just six airports in the U.S. use private security screeners.

Last year Congress passed a law to protect airports from financial liability if a security disaster occurs under the watch of a private company, a change Mica said will increase the appeal of going private.

Orlando International will spend $2 million this year on private baggage handlers to supplement TSA staff after the airport struggled earlier this year with long checkpoint lines.

Jeffry Fuqua, chairman of the Greater Orlando Aviation Authority board, said the lines have improved, but he plans to look more closely at privatizing the whole security operation.

Beth Kassab can be reached at bkassab@orlandosentinel.com or 407-420-5448.

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