Inside the Fence

April 8, 2002


In Washington, one door prepares to close and another opens, but the air coming through feels the same ...

By John Infanger, Editorial Director

April 2002

The news from this year's annual FAA Commercial Aviation Forecast Conference, held in Washington, D.C., is that the agency expects the industry to get back on track to moving a billion passengers annually within ten years. In essence, it's the same forecast of a year ago, albeit delayed by the events of 9/11 and the recent recession.

A couple of quotes from Adminis-trator Jane Garvey, now in the final year of her term ...

o Told that a question from the audience was coming from a person back to her right in the room: "You know, everyone's on my right nowadays ... just kidding, Mr. President."
o And, what many will consider an understatement: "Never has it been a more challenging time to be an airport director."

Meanwhile, an airport focus group on day two of the conference featured a rep from the Transpor-tation Security Administration, a group which many in airport circles feel has ignored them to date. Robin "Chuck" Burke says the TSA is both a law enforcement agency and a regulatory agency, one that has met all required deadlines as of early March.

Following the session, I had the opportunity to speak with Burke.

In the '90s, much was made of the need for increased security in aviation. Commissions, reports following accidents, and various officials all stressed the need. And, when asked, FAA would frequently say they had a handle on the security interests of our nation, but when asked for specifics would usually hide behind the veil of not being able to reveal too much - for security reasons.

In this free society - and especially following the tragedies of last September - we must be skeptical of such a position. Sure, giving away too much to the enemy carries risk, but so does not providing information in a democracy built on the people's right to know. The trick is in the balance but the veil must be thin, or the bigger risk becomes empowering the few to hold court over the many. And then, you lose what a bunch of men in Philadelphia some 200 years ago thought hard to create.

"I'd say more but I can't for security reasons" was a quote heard time and again from officials during the '90s. It is one that continues to be heard since 9/11, and one which Mr. Burke used as well in Washington.

Afterwards, I asked him why we should feel any more confident when a TSA rep says it today. He agreed it's a legitimate question and concern, and said the reassurance comes in the form of reports from the Inspector Gener-al's office, which is charged with monitoring TSA's performance. In fact, a check with the IG reveals it will begin inspecting TSA's performance at U.S. airports beginning in April.

Yet, on this point little has changed. Prior to 9/11, we had a federal agency in charge of aviation security and the IG monitoring it. Yes, we have new legislation, a new agency focused exclusively on security, and new procedures being put into place. All that is for the better. But the question of accountability has not been answered, and we as Americans can no longer take it for granted that others are doing what needs to be done merely because they say so. All of us, in and out of aviation, need to demand more. The free flow of information is what, after all, makes this America.
Thanks for reading.