In some sort of cosmic irony the nation’s aviation security leaders gathered just days after the shooting at Los Angeles international Airport to discuss the topics most important to them. The main topic of discussion however was not LAX. Its just too early. LAX will after-action this incident to the Nth degree and there will be lessons learned spreading throughout our industry for months to come but for this conference, the big issue was airport exit lanes and TSA collaboration.

Jeanne Olivier, Assistant Aviation Director for the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, opened the meeting calling for a moment of silence for slain TSA officer Gerardo Hernandez. Olivier recalled the first aviation security summit, which occurred in December of 2001 (where I actually first met Jeanne), when we all came together to try to figure out what to do next.

“We’ve come a long way and we still have a long way to go,” said Olivier.

Incoming AAAE President Todd Hauptli then took the stage. Todd is currently the President, AAAE GOV but and was recently named to succeed outgoing AAAE President Chip Barclay as president and chief executive officer of the 5,000-plus member organization. Hauptli introduced keynote speaker TSA Deputy Administrator John Halinski. (pictured)

Halinski set the tone right away on the hotly contested exit lane issue: “We firmly believe that exit lanes are not a screening function but an access control function,” said Halinski. “Sometimes in partnerships we have to agree to disagree.”

Quick explanatory note: traditionally, protection of the exit lanes, the areas where people come out of the Sterile Area, have been a function of the screeners at many airports. When the TSA says the term “access control”, they mean the employee access doors and gates, which by regulation are under the control of the airport operator. TSA made the decision last year to make the protection of the exit lanes the responsibility of the airport operator. TSA claims it can save over $80 million a year by turning over the responsibility, but they also estimate it will cost the airport industry over $140 million to do the same thing (much of the costs in hiring, training, churn, etc).

Halinski then warned that the industry needs to change to meet new threats. “Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula is focused on attacking aviation, our adversaries are studying our tactics and we must adapt to detect non-metallic threats.”

Halinski said that risk based security is the way of the future, noting that 99% of the traveling public is not a risk. “We’ve moved beyond the one-size-fits-all security model.” Programs like Secure Flight now allow TSA to know more about people before they get to the checkpoints than before and TSA also maintains much more connection to the Intelligence Community.

“TSA is going to be the most risk based organization in the federal government,” John Halinski

Another common theme at this years summit was the drumbeat of “collaboration,” even though not everyone agreed that collaboration was actually happening.

Mark Crosby, Director of Safety and Security for Portland told Halinski that TSA hasn’t been real collaborative lately, particularly with the exit lane issue.

Halinski admitted that TSA needs to do a better job of collaboration but due to budget cuts this summer and the government shutdowns, TSA had to cut travel to conferences that are essential to connecting with industry, and also had to cut back on training.

TSA Assistant Administrator, Security Policy and Industry Engagement John Sammon discussed the advancement of the PreCheck program. “We have twice the productivity at PreCheck and the goal next year is to get 50% of the passengers through PreCheck.”

Sammon also got the TSA memo and said that TSA should not have been involved in exit lane staffing in the first place. “It’s an access control function.”

It should be noted that some airport operators in the audience said that if the exit lane is an access control function they would not be allowing Federal Flight Deck Officers, Federal Air Marshals, non-airport armed law enforcement officers and others through the exit lanes, forcing them instead to go through the checkpoints. And, airport operators also noted that if the exit lanes are an access point, it would be the only one that accommodates passenger traffic.

One solution proposed for exit lane protection is technology such as one-way door systems with alarms and CCTV or similar solutions. However, TSA said they are not going to produce a Qualified Products List for exit lanes, but instead will provide a “toolbox” of resources to their Federal Security Directors, on exit lane technologies they have tested so that each FSD can make their own determination as to whether the airport’s solution is acceptable – sort of a “if you build it, we may approve it,” approach. Some airports are seeking legal recourse to ask for a stay of the order, which goes into effect at the end of the year and are considering further legal action.

The LAX shooting was addressed briefly when Sammon noted that the terminal is a public area and anybody can wander in with an explosive or “whatever.”

General aviation security was addressed by an audience member who noted that many GA initiatives have been stalled due to vacancies and turnover in TSA’s general aviation security office. Sammon replied that the position has been posted and TSA is working towards hiring someone for the position. Whoever takes the job may want to write their name on the door in chalk – that position seems to experience more change than Carrie Underwood wardrobe changes at the CMA’s. Employee transfers, promotions and turnover at TSA has long been a sore spot with industry who has a difficult time building relationships and often spends their time re-educating new personnel.

Ken Fletcher, TSA’s Deputy Assistant Administrator, Risk Based Security talked about the expansion of the PreCheck program stating that they will continue to expand PreCheck by adding new airlines and looking at known populations such as Active Duty Military and possibly airport ID badge holders.

In other news, Customs and Border Protection continues to expand the Global Entry program and Robert Olislagers, Director of Aviation for Centennial Airport noted that the General Aviation Security Guideline revision may soon see the light of day. He and TSA worked hard on the new program and he feels it will be more beneficial to the GA community.

Key points of the seminar are on my Twitter feed at Av_Security

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