Under the Banner of Security

May 1, 2002

Under the Banner of Security

George Prill asks the question, What impacts do the new security measures have on the GSE community in the U.S.?

By Michelle Garetson/p>

By George Prill

May 2002

No one in the airline business can be against security. Like "Motherhood and Apple Pie," it seems to be above criticism, but we have to look at the way security is being managed, or mismanaged, in the airline business.

George Prill

George Prill is an Editorial Consultant for GSE Today and is based in Galveston, Texas.

There is no question that the terrorist actions in the U.S. on September 11 introduced the world to a new type of attack. It was carried out by men who had the brains to organize and manage recruitment, training, and execution and who were also willing to give up their own lives. Unfortunately for the airline industry, airline aircraft were their weapons of choice.

The U.S. Congress disregarded the wishes of the Bush Administration and rushed to bring the government into the direct management of airline security by federalizing the passenger screeners and reestablishing the Air Marshal program. As a result, the Department of Transportation, through the newly formed Transportation Security Administration (TSA), is now busy taking actions that may stop another attack but which certainly alienate or, in some cases, infuriate airline employees and passengers.

The ground support community is in the middle of all this with new requirements for baggage screening and matching and the need to keep aircraft moving. Bag matching is now a requirement. This is done manually at most stations with ground support people matching baggage tags with passenger boarding cards. To increase speed and reliability, the airlines are automating the process as much as possible by equipping the baggage handlers with bar code readers that can match tags with passes.

The TSA is required to implement a system to check baggage and cargo for explosive devices by the end of 2002. This cannot be done with the present level of technology or the space and facilities available at many airports. Even if there was a budget to buy the expensive machines that have been approved, this will be a continuing problem for baggage handling for the foreseeable future.

Mechanics, ground support personnel and flight crews are searched over and over and are not allowed to carry pocket knives or other sharp objects through check points even though they have much better potential weapons waiting for them on the other side — in the shop or in the cockpit.

The requirement to federalize security personnel will turn the 28,000-plus security people into 30,000 to 40,000 federal employees — supposedly better trained and managed. Many question that the US$2 billion annual charge for this requirement will actually change anything for the better. Rather, they see more interruptions of the flow of passengers for false alarms and reasons unrelated to real security.

The performance to date of the security people has been dismal. As everyone in the business knows, the delay of flights early in the day disrupts the system for that day. Aircraft and flight crew schedules, as well as gate assignments, are shattered. It was reported that in Louisville, a National Guardsman noticed a baggage screener nodding off. His report caused the rescreening of more than 1,000 passengers and the delay of 25 flights. It is imperative that security people work together to expedite security.

Of real interest to everyone at the airport is the issue of guns. National Guardsmen toting M-16's have been a familiar site near security checkpoints. They do not have police authority and many in the industry worry more about the use of the weapons on innocents than on some would-be terrorist.

At the time of this writing, there is a strong debate about the wisdom of arming flight crews. Transportation Secretary Mineta opposes the arming of pilots, but has relented to the point of suggesting that they be armed with stun guns. With the pilot unions fighting this issue in the White House and in the Congress, it is clearly not settled.

Regardless of whether or not pilots are armed, the TSA has implemented the Air Marshal program. At present, there are about 1,000 marshals who are assigned to fly armed and undercover. Already, there has been friction between them and airline flight crews on seating and on authority and responsibility, but this is another program in transition and has only a secondary effect on ground operations.

What can ground operations people do to improve security?

This writer believes it would be to exercise to the greatest degree their common sense. Report what works and what doesn't work to their companies and their unions. Facilitate and streamline needed security and get rid of that which is only a drag to the schedule and an unneeded expense. Under normal circumstances, one would expect that common sense would win out and that the headaches presently being experienced would, at least, diminish. However, at this writing there are still many questions open about the management of the new Transportation Security administration under John Magaw. Mr. Magaw's previous positions were at the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms and the Secret Service. Neither of these organizations are known for interest in facilitation. The industry will be waiting to see if the management of the TSA recognizes that the first word in its title is Transportation, and that Security must not cripple the airline and airport industries and, thereby, the traveling public. The purpose of the Department of Transportation and the FAA is to facilitate travel, not snarl it in wasteful procedures implemented under the banner of security.