Click here to listen to this exclusive Airport Business interview (40 MB. mp3 download).
RENO - Prior to Monday's announcement by the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) on the modification of the ban on carry-on liquids and gels, the agency met with some airport directors and airlines on Sept. 8 to provide them with a classified briefing on possible procedural rule changes.
In an exclusive interview with AirportBusiness.com, Assistant Secretary for TSA Kip Hawley said the agency had been working since Aug. 10 to refine the total ban on liquids. Working with security and intelligence officials in the United Kingdom and Canada, the agency tested the amount of liquids and gels that could be safely carried onto a plan and not pose a threat. Explosive tests were conducted as part of the research. TSA's operations staff was involved in crafting the protocols that led to the zip-lock bag solution.
''We became confident that with these small amounts we could lift the total ban. The issue of the 3 ounces and the quart-size zip-lock bag is that we would be well within the risk of tolerance,'' he said.
In the Sept. 8 classified briefing for the airport directors, Hawley said the TSA discussed the changes in general, but the airports were not involved in the protocol testing. ''We didn't want it out there publicly about the changes,'' he added. In that meeting, he noted, the airports were frank in describing the problems there were experiencing with the total ban. ''We had a good back and forth,'' Hawley said.
''We did not disclose the exact timing. We worked with the airports, the airlines and our own people to train them.''
Since the change took place earlier this week, Hawley said the modification has been implemented without major problems or new delays. ''I am pleasantly surprised,'' he said, noting that he got up at 3 a.m. Tuesday in anticipation of problems.
''I have been to several dozen check-points since the announcement to see how it is working. I have been through several check-points myself with my baggie - some without identifying myself. I got to experience the change in real time. I did have one guy question my shampoo bottle.
''I did see a lot of good judgment by TSO in the spirit of the announcement,'' Hawley said.
The U.S. worked with Canada to jointly implement the modification of the liquids ban.
On Wednesday, the European Union announced that its aviation security directors have agreed to implement similar liquid restrictions as the ones the TSA announced on Monday. Before the new rules can take effect, the European Commission must accept them. (Click here to see a relevant AirportBusiness.com article.) Action is expected to take place in November.
Once the rules are adopted by the EU, someone traveling from the United States to Canada and then onto London, Warsaw and Paris would have the same security rules, Hawley said.
''You would just pack the same way and expect the same security measures. From a security point of view, it is a very good thing. But it also it is better for the traveling pubic. That is the goal."
Hawley was in Reno on Thursday to discuss security issues behind closed doors with members of the Airports Council International-North America. Prior to the interview with AirportBusiness.com, he had a private breakfast briefing with about 10 airport directors.
? Problems with the ''Puffer'' explosives detection scanners: ''The puffers represent promising technology. There have been maintenance issues. The machines have been deployed to see if the results from the lab hold up out there in the rough-and-tumble part of the world,'' he said. There are 93 ''puffer'' devices deployed and still in use in 30 airports.
As the manufacturers work with the TSA to deal with the maintenance issues, software designers continue to refine and improve the computer programming behind the air sampling technology. Before any more machines are deployed, he said the maintenance issues will be resolved and more advanced software will be in place.
? Registered traveler: The TSA - after proposing a $70 per passenger fee to do upfront work for private firms to create pre-screened, preferential traveler programs - has decided to back off, Hawley said. Private sector promoters of the program were upset with the fee because it would drive the costs of the program to about $200 per passenger per airport.
Hawley said the ball is now back in the court of the promoters to take the next step. The agency will not do any upfront work on the program. In setting up the program, the TSA continues to have three ground rules: the government is not going to subsidize the private sector, it is not going to lower security standards and it will not inconvenience the travelers who are not in the program.
? Financing: In a presentation Wednesday, Cindy Nichol, director of Leigh Fisher Associates, briefed conference participants on a creative financing program based on tax-credit bonds which would be used to pay for infrastructure improvements needs in airports for the installation of in-line explosives detection screening device for checked luggage. (Click here to see the related AirportBusiness.com article.) The proposal was a product of a TSA-backed working group.
"We have been involved in from the start," Hawley said. ''We worked hand in glove with the group. We all share some cost responsibility. We will review this with the administration and there will be a lot of people joining in the process. We will carry the ball with the administration and Congress.''