This story is getting a lot of play this week. I’ve heard that this pilot has been called everything from a hero to a whistleblower, and his attorney is equally enjoying his own celebrity. Just recently his attorney offered to make his client available to consult with Congress on aviation security.
Time to offer some reality.
First, I don’t know who the pilot is. Second, taking away his gun and credentials to carry concealed and be a Federal Flight Deck Officer is beyond my call. Like ALL stories, there are probably details here that we’re not hearing about. I can say that off-hand, it appears that the pilot violated certain items that are either Sensitive Security Information, or through his methods of attempting to reveal security “gaps,” he has demonstrated to the authorities that he may not be able to be trusted with other SSI materials and data.
As for what he revealed and his hero status and potential to brief Congress. From what I can tell, a “gap” was not revealed. The fact that many airport and airline employees do not undergo screening like passengers do, is not an industry secret. It’s been going on since about the time that screening for passengers was implemented. It IS a controversial topic, but there are not easy solutions.
I addressed this issue in Practical Aviation Security. While many employees that work at the airport do go through screening, thousands still do not — at least not in the way that passengers do. In the U.S. employee “screening,” is conducted through the fingerprint-based criminal history record check. Yes, we decide to do a background check on employees, then we trust them. The same type of screening that many security experts have been calling for, in lieu of touching junk and being x-rayed.
That said, several significant aviation security attacks were conducted by employees so the problem clearly still exists. I don’t know that sending hundreds of thousands of employees through checkpoints will resolve that issue. It will certainly cost A LOT MORE MONEY and TSA would have to hire tens of thousands of employees to staff the new checkpoints. Or, TSA could decide that employee screening is the purview of the airport operator, and declare an unfunded mandate that airports install their own employee checkpoints and staff them with contract personnel. This is exactly what’s happening at Miami and Orlando, where employees are screened at checkpoints, in addition to the background check. However, these airports are paying for it themselves.
TSA has run pilot programs on various employee screening options and I agree that this is an area that remains weak in terms of the layered system. However, the “hero” pilot has not revealed anything new here. I know from reading plenty of congressional testimony in my book research that Congress is already aware of this fact. If you want a pilot to address Congress about aviation security issues, then I suggest you contact the Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA). ALPA has a great team with excellent security backgrounds and can put the proper perspective on this issue.
I’m sure the pilot who shot these videos (many of which just show the public areas of an airport), had good intentions. However, if you really want to make security safer, get involved with your trade associations and union security committees. I think you’ll find some folks there with a wealth of knowledge who can help you address your concerns, so at least you can keep your credentials and gun.