The Real Problem with TSA (and the industry)

I say this knowing full well that I am an educator, a trainer in the aviation security industry, and the co-author of a textbook on aviation security, but the real problem with TSA (and many others in control of aviation security), is the lack of individuals that are formally trained in aviation security and who are unfamiliar with the aviation industry.

Myself and my industry counterparts have seen it for years. In fact, ever since TSA was formed, the problem has remained the same. TSA was started with tons of people who, while good intentioned, did not possess experience in aviation nor in aviation security. Many airport operators also put people in charge of aviation security who may have had good law enforcement or military backgrounds but did not understand aviation.

Now, before everyone goes all nuts, I KNOW that there is value to outside perspectives. I’m also a consultant and part of my business is to bring outside perspectives. But, perspective is less meaningful when you don’t even have a basic understanding of the system you are giving your perspective on. Let me also give TSA and many police officers and others throughout the industry credit for, over the years, continuing to try to educate themselves. TSA has also been hiring more people with aviation industry experience.

The sad fact remains (and the real problem is), that 9 years after 9/11 there are only a handful of university aviation programs in the country that offer a dedicated course in aviation security, and even less that offer a full degree program in aviation security.

For years however, there has not been a valid text that could provide instructors and colleges with the information necessary to build a class around. My intent with writing the text came from my own frustration that there wasn’t a good textbook out there I could use. Now that there is a good text, along with several other aviation security books that are now available for use in graduate programs and as additional research materials (they are all a part of my library and are excellent), and now that aviation security is back in the forefront I hope that more universities and colleges will start programs in aviation security.

As I travel throughout the industry I still see and hear the horror stories of airline and airport security coordinators who keep running into TSA personnel and others who are in charge at airports who do not have a basic grasp of the aviation industry. They need to understand that security has an impact on the system and by devaluing the system by eroding the benefits of aviation, does the very thing that the bad guys hope we do.

I believe that TSA and airports and airlines could also learn a lot from our international counterparts. The Europeans have been doing aviation security for a long time and have been hit with a variety of attacks. Also, while the majority of flights in the U.S. are domestic, the majority of flights in the EU and many other countries are “international.” That means the security of the flights must also take border protection into account, which increases the complexity of the task.

I’ve studied international security practices for many years and am an avid reader and contributor to Aviation Security International magazine, which looks at the worldwide security perspectives. We did not invent aviation security in this country and there is so much we can learn. Unfortunately, the Christmas day bombing attempt has likely made people less willing to listen to the international community, but that’s a mistake. We should remember that this guy was on a U.S. flight and should not have been.

For years, the FAA controlled aviation security and while those of us on the airport and airline side had our frustrations with them, most of them came from industry and had an understanding of how the system works. I’m happy to see that many of the FAA security personnel have finally made their way into TSA. I’d also be happy to see TSA continue their own education into aviation and aviation security. I enjoy seeing TSA personnel in my airport security classes as it gives me a chance to see their perspectives and for them to see ours.

Ultimately, of course, I want to see more and more aviation security classes and programs so that we can train the next generation of aviation security professionals, rather than having them show up after the next attack.

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