Sky Harbor Wants Safe Fliers to Bypass Long Security Lines

PHOENIX (AP) -- Sky Harbor International Airport is pushing a new program where passengers willing to undergo a stringent federal background check could avoid long security lines.

The service, which likely will take more than a year to put in place, is being touted as a way to speed low-risk passengers through checkpoints and make the security screening process more efficient for everyone.

Sky Harbor's new initiative is similar to an effort started last year by the security agency at five U.S. airports.

But unlike the federal government's program, which has been made available to only 10,000 specially selected frequent fliers on individual airlines, Phoenix's service would be open to anyone who wanted to participate regardless of the airline.

Last month, Sky Harbor was one of seven airports that formed a new partnership in conjunction with the American Association of Airport Executives in hopes of expanding the security agency's pilot project to much larger scale.

The Registered Traveler Interoperability Consortium wants to establish common rules for the new service so that approved passengers would receive the same treatment at all participating locations.

The security agency's pilot program has been criticized because it has been slow to expand and passengers can bypass lines at their home airport only on designated airlines.

''The goal is really to make it seamless between airports,'' Phoenix Aviation Director David Krietor said. ''I think, at the end of the day, you'll see all the major airports participating.''

At least 29 more airports - including Boston Logan, Lambert St. Louis, Philadelphia International, and Seattle-Tacoma - already have joined the new group.

Original members include airports in Dallas, San Francisco, Denver and Washington.

The new service would let fliers avoid standing in lines that at Sky Harbor, routinely take longer than 20 minutes. But it would not allow registered passengers to bypass security checkpoints completely.

Approved passengers would be exempt from random secondary screenings, such as wanding and pat-downs, unless they first set off the alarms.

Krietor said Sky Harbor and its airport partners plan to use private security companies to manage their programs, with the idea that the U.S. Department of Homeland Security would still have oversight over the whole process.

That means the federal security agency and U.S. government would have sole control over whether an individual application was approved.

Phoenix airport officials believe the program will be most popular with business travelers, who find themselves flying every week, or at least a couple of times a month.

This week, Sky Harbor's Aviation Advisory Board agreed to seek proposals from private security firms interested in running the airport's program.

However, the plan first must be approved by the Phoenix City Council, a vote not expected until sometime next month.

Copyright 2005 Associated Press