Taking TSA To Task

July 8, 2004

Tech Bytes

Taking TSA To Task

By Jodi Richards

July 2004

There’s more discussion about the actions/roles of the Transportation Security Administration, particularly with the number of pilot programs it is currently conducting. Congress, among others, is expressing frustration with the amount of money being invested in testing, without seeing any real results.

A valid frustration; however, testing and trials need to be performed in order to ensure the technology and the process will work in an airport. Keep in mind that it won’t necessarily work the same or at all in every airport.

Thella Bowens, president/CEO, San Diego County Regional Airport Authority says it well, “The TSA has a lot to learn.

“On the local level,” she says, “we have a great working relationship with our Federal Security Director. I can’t say the same on a national level. I have lots of issues about how TSA is structured and how they make decisions at the Washington level; how everything is so centralized; and how they don’t understand the airport business. Most of them didn’t come from it, and they don’t make any attempt to understand it. The TSA needs to work more closely with us and listen to airports more.

“Every airport is a different business, in a different community, with a different design, and different operation requirements, so it’s going to be hard for us to come up with a template. TSA is into this template thing. Everything is a template you can lay over and one size fits all. That doesn’t work in airports and if they’re going to be successful in working with us, they are the ones that are going to need to do a lot more changing. They need to be a little less bureaucratic and governmental and a lot more business orientated. These are businesses and we’re trying to run a business.”

As for the opt-out pilot program currently underway at five of the nation’s airports, Bowens is not impressed. “I think the opt-out program, the way they have it designed right now, is worthless,” she says. “I think there is a model that would allow opt-out to work very well, and I would like to see airports and TSA work together to create a model. What they’re proposing to do does not make the program any more efficient, any more cost-effective, it doesn’t make the customer’s experience any better, it doesn’t save the U.S. citizen a dollar.”

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If San Diego County does vote to build a new airport, will the airport install common use equipment? “If I’m here it will,” says Bowens. “I think it is the most efficient way to do business. Airlines come and go and the number of flights that they have come and go. If you’re letting them all provide their own infrastructure at the airport individually, it gives you very little flexibility. Also, in the long term, it will be cheaper for them [the airlines].

“The more they can share costs, share assets, which the common use facilities allow, the more they will benefit financially. And when they move away from their very parochial look at their business and see how having airports provide more and more of those kinds of services can be a cost-benefit for them rather than fighting it and wanting their own proprietary systems, I think we will all benefit from that.”

Jodi Richards, Associate Editor, [email protected]