Safety Vs. Security: can we afford both?

April 1, 2002
Safety vs. Security Can we afford both? By Stephen P. Prentice
As those who read the papers should know, the President signed the final version of the Aviation and Transportation Security Act on November 19, 2001. The details of this fast-paced legislation are now coming out. This law will have a profound effect on the aviation business, your jobs, and the way you perform them. The Act established The Transportation Security Administration (TSA). The marshals First and foremost, the Act provides for hiring, training, and deploying air marshals. Most of us know what a federal marshal does even if we think of Matt Dillon or the marshal we see acting as a bailiff in federal court. The recent advertisements for marshals to ride our civil passenger aircraft have been widely circulated. Applications, screening, and training have already started and will continue indefinitely. (Take a look at The papers say that some 65,000 applications have already been received. Many applicants have a background in law enforcement but not all. The age limit is 40, having been raised from 37 but they will grant exemptions for those with a federal law enforcement background. Further, there is no age limit for any retired law enforcement, military people, and those flight crews that have been furloughed after the September 11 incident. The home of this new organization is in Atlantic City, NJ. No experience with aircraft is required, no pilot or mechanic certificates are needed, however if you are a pilot or mechanic you are given some preference credit for employment. Keeping in mind the recent battle over wages for mechanics at a major airline, here are the salary levels and other compensation items for the marshal's job. Base salary can be anywhere from $40,000 to $70,000. Then there is added compensation called LEAP payments that add some 20 percent. Locality pay for cost of living, premium pay for holiday and night differential, and for Sunday work are also added. There are other items like expenses and free airline travel. What a deal!The screeners The Act also sets up the structure to hire, train, and assign passenger screeners at airports around the country. They say that 30,000 will be deployed by the end of this year. They will of course be federal employees also. Those of us who have flown since September 11 are painfully familiar with the screening operations around the country. Before the legislation passed they were generally low-paid positions. Contractors who were paid by the airline employed people from the ranks of the lower paid and even included non-citizens. The low bidder usually got the job. Background checks were non-existent or superficial at best. Now, a company called Pearson has just received a contract for over $100 million to collect and process job applications for the 30,000 prospective screeners. The TSA will pay Pearson to evaluate and select the employees. This company, incidentally, is British owned. Pearson will not train the employees and a decision has not been made on who will. Under the new security legislation you should know that these jobs will now be federal and pay somewhere around $15 to $16 per hour with health insurance and retirement benefits. Just how long do you think it will take for that salary to get beyond $20 per hour? Oh, by the way, the screeners will be supervised by a federal security director who will be earning over $100,000 per year. Count the number of airports and you will compute the number of federal directors that are required!Money and TSA Well now if you were to peruse the law further, it becomes apparent that airline security will cost millions, no, more like billions and have employees far exceeding 100,000. The marshals and screeners alone will exceed this number. (By way of contrast, the FAA has somewhere around 50,000 employees). The inspector general has already voiced concerns as to how all these tasks will be paid for. Hiring screeners, buying bomb detection equipment, deploying air marshals to name a few. The advertised budget for the TSA in the first year is a paltry $2.3 billion. You can bet that it will continue to rise. Who will pay? You guessed it. A fee of up to $2.50 per enplanement, with a total amount of $5.00 for a one-way trip will be added to your ticket in accord with the Act to help defray the costs of providing aviation security services. This fee will have to rise. It will not begin to cover all of the anticipated costs that will have to come from the general budget fund. Technicians and security It does not take much mental acuity to determine that technicians are now on the bottom of the security pay scale and yet have a very important job in the air carrier security business. Technicians are on the same level as flight crews when it comes to security. So, are pay scales getting a little bit out of kilter? Many believe that they are. Mechanics should at least have similar pay scales as air marshals and screeners. Wait a minute, I got it! With tongue in cheek, let's all argue for federal employment. If mechanics compare themselves to federal employees they will see what I mean. Just think, federal employment would mean no layoffs and guaranteed pay, benefits, and retirement income. Why not be employed by the FAA? Why should a mechanic slave away for an air carrier then in any downturn get laid off and have to find another job, losing seniority benefits and all? Have you ever see any government workers get laid off or lose their seniority? It reminds me of the engineers of the '60s and '70s who would travel from defense contractor to defense contractor following the money to the company that received the contract. Unfortunately they lost all their seniority and benefits when they moved from one company to the other. Better that they would have gone to work for the government and could move around within a federal system retaining all benefits and seniority. Where were the lobbyists for the mechanics when this piece of legislation was being formulated? ALPA was there to propose that furloughed and retired pilots could be given preference in employment as marshals because they needed work. It seems to me that mechanics should have been given the same preference when it comes time to hire on as a marshal.
FAA, TSA, and safety
The Act also provides for enhanced security around airports where you may be working, so be prepared for more scrutiny by security personnel. There soon may be more security people than mechanics and pilots running around any airport. By the way, those employed in corporate aviation won't escape either. The Act directs that a security program be implemented to cover charter operations using aircraft with a certificated takeoff weight of 12,500 pounds or more. Charter and fractional operators will have to tow the security line just like 121 air carriers. The FAA will be relieved of its responsibility for the screening of all passengers and property, including U.S. mail, cargo, carry-on and checked baggage, and other articles, carried aboard passenger aircraft operated by an air carrier or foreign carrier in air transportation or intrastate air travel. The responsibility for all of the above will now be handled by the Transportation Safety Administration (TSA). The TSA will grow to be a huge organization much larger in both personnel and facilities than the FAA ever could be. The FAA will continue its role in aviation safety and to some degree security but it will clearly be eclipsed by the TSA. Airline safety audits One of the first clues to the FAA tightening its belt is the recent termination of the audits initiated after the Alaska airlines accident. That program was designed to inspect nine air carriers and report their compliance status. The agency released a summary of the audit results in December 2000. The final results of the audits were released last month. As you might recall the audits looked closely at various safety programs within each airline. The Continuing Analysis and Surveillance System (CASS), required by FAR 121.373, was examined at each airline. This program is designed to detect various unsafe conditions by looking at maintenance procedure and practice on a regular basis. In most cases, the program was found to be ineffective or basically non-existent. Since this program is mandated by regulation, violation should trigger punitive certificate action against any carrier found violating the mandate of FAR 121.373. Other programs such as an internal evaluation program, reliability program, and general safety initiatives were also examined. These programs, unlike CASS are not mandated by regulation. Excessive maintenance work was deferred at some airlines. Inadequate staffing was found in many of the carriers. Quality control and quality assurance people, who are supposed to be independent, were found reporting to the same managers. There was little independence found in the auditor ranks. There were no conclusions drawn from the audits and there was no punitive action taken even though serious defects were found. The associate administrator said no violations were found. How can that be when so many defects were noted. He said recently that the whole audit process now would be "scaled back," canceling plans to extend audits to regional and cargo airlines. The costs in time and personnel assignment would most likely be the reason. Airline security audits Many now believe that the FAA will jump on the security bandwagon and direct its efforts toward airline security, since that's where the money is for staffing and programs. One can only wonder whether or not the overall safety mandate will suffer at the hands of the more glossy security mantra. We'll have to wait and see where it goes. Well, maybe it's time for a move?

Stephen P. Prentice is an attorney whose practice involves FAA-NTSB issues. He has an Airframe and Powerplant certificate and is an ATP rated pilot. He worked with Western Airlines and the Allison Division of GMC in Latin America, servicing commercial and military overhaul activities and is a USAF veteran.