The news the TSA is considering removing screening from over 150 airports across the country is disturbing. While it certainly would save TSA a lot of money, other important issues must be addressed.
A small aircraft would not make a very good weapon of mass destruction, yet it can still be commandeered and be an effective small weapon used against a smaller ground target. But, the real concern here is not some sort of 9/11 style coordinated attack of small aircraft. It is the new style of attack that Al Qaeda and ISIS have been promoting, which is to embolden and radicalize individuals who are already US citizens to commit acts of terror, like we saw in Orlando, San Bernardino, and in New York City, where an individual drove a van into a crowd of people for several blocks. It’s very possible a radicalized US citizen could easily take over and terrorize a small aircraft with 30 people on board, or place bombs on board several small aircraft at once.
In 2013, Terry Loewen, a radicalized avionics technician who worked at the Wichita Mid Continent Airport, attempted to set off a car bomb on the airfield. He was caught by the FBI before he could carry out the attack. Wichita is an excellent example that criminals and terrorists are not just interested in big cities. Nor can we ever forget the Oklahoma City bombing of the Murrah Building in 1995.
TSA might save some money from an operational perspective, but someone’s going to pay for this change and it’s going to be the passenger. The burden of costs will now fall on the larger airport operators who have to reconfigure and possibly build or rebuild terminal facilities and concourses so that reverse screening check points can be installed.
While reverse screening was a common practice prior to 9/11, airport improvements over the past 17 years were based on the premise that the process was a thing of the past. The costs of these changes will be passed along to the passengers and users of the airport in the form of higher airfares, higher parking fees and ground transportation access (yes, your Uber and Lyft rides may cost you more) and in price hikes on airport concessions.
Perhaps the TSA would consider another option such as replacing existing TSA personnel with contract screeners. The Screening Partnership Program, also known as opt out, is already in place at 26 US airports. It is not the pre-9/11 model where screening companies were contracted by the airlines. It is a post 9/11 model where screening companies are certified by TSA, contracted by TSA, and overseen by TSA.
It is unfair to shift TSA‘s financial burdens to airport operators and leave passengers on small commuter aircraft vulnerable to acts of terrorism.