Why Shouldn’t Airports Pay for Exit Lane Coverage?

TSA’s recent announcement that they are transferring the guarding of the exit lanes (from the sterile area) from their control to airport control, has caused a lot of heartache throughout the industry, both in terms of policy-making and policy-implemetation. The strategy represents a shift of how TSA has worked with industry since 9/11 and also a shift in security responsibilities.

Why Does TSA Staff the Exit Lanes
The protection of the sterile area (that area past the checkpoint) is a shared responsibility. Under Title 49 Part 1544 (Aircraft Operator Security) and under Title 49 CFR Part 1542 (Airport Security). From a regulatory perspective, the aircraft operator has the responsibility at the checkpoint, which is managed by TSA in the U.S. Other access controlled doors from the Secured Area (airfield) to the Sterile Area are controlled by the airport operator.

When TSA took over screening after 9/11, there was an understanding that TSA would conduct the security functions and not be charged for the space. TSA does pay for administrative space but all the areas of the checkpoint are considered public-use space and the TSA does not pay for it. The exit lanes are part of the screening checkpoint footprint.

In 2006, TSA said that certain exit lanes at certain airports, specifically those locations where the exit lane is physically separated from the checkpoint area, really should be airport-controlled. Several airports took over exit lane protection, mostly by hiring private security contractors.

TSA is now in the process of issuing and amendment that will require airport operators to take over all exit lane protection.

Why?

It’s About The Money
TSA needs to cut about $88 million out of their budget. The industry generally feels that this savings can be realized by reducing the number of Transportation Security Inspectors (TSIs) – note, those are not screeners. TSI’s conduct inspections and ensure airport and air carrier compliance with their security programs. And, the reduction of the behavior detection programs. Other suggestions include reviewing the Screener Allocation Model to reduce over-staffing at the checkpoints.

TSA so far has not considered these options.

Why Shouldn’t the Airports Do This?
The challenge to airports is two-fold. First, most breaches occur at the exit lanes so there is a security argument to be made that these sensitive locations should remain under federal control. Second, the initial cost estimates are that it will cost airports over $220 million per year to hire staff to replace the screeners. Where is THAT money going to come from?

As it always does, it’s going to come from the traveling public. In order to pay for the additional personnel rates will increase. Parking fees, concessions, land leases, will all have to go up causing air travel to be even more expensive.

Recently, A4A, AAAE and ACI sent a letter to TSA opposing the TSA’s abandonment of exit lane protection and various industry representatives have met with the TSA – the word has been, thanks for your input and we’re moving forward anyway.

This also represents a shift in how industry has worked with TSA. In past administrations, TSA and industry, as represented by the trade associations, has had a “shared mission, cooperative approach,” to policy making. This policy however just seems to be handed down without that cooperative approach, much like the lifting of the small knife ban.

What’s next is TSA will issue the amendment. Industry will be allowed a short comment period, then TSA will either move forward with notifying their local Federal Security Directors for implementation, or rescind (unlikely).

After 9/11, the Aviation Transportation and Security Act of 2001 federal focused on screening of bags and people and law enforcement. The airports were “deputized” to handle the law enforcement response element (a role they’d always had). Now we’re seeing a slight shift to the responsibility of the screening functions. I wonder what’s in store next?

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5 Responses to Why Shouldn’t Airports Pay for Exit Lane Coverage?

  1. I believe this step to take over the exit lane is one of the many gradual steps that TSA is getting out of the screening business. This transformation to private security may take several years to complete, however don’t be surprised if more “small” takeovers of screening related functions by the airport port authorities will be in the future.

    • That seemed to be the general consensus of the folks I spoke to at the American Association of Airport Executives conference last week, however the screening requirements live in the 1544 (Aircraft Operator) security section of the regulations.

  2. The U.S. is in a war on terrorism and checkpoints are on the frontlines of that war (TSA will be the first to tell you that airports are still prime targets). Just because this war is asymmetric doesn’t mean it’s not a national defense issue. Airports should not be required to pay for national defense.

    • Absolutely right Bob and I think we’re going to see a serious resurgence of airport operators looking at these technologies.

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