Why TSA’s credibility is always questioned

An article in USAToday explains exactly why TSA’s credibility is always questioned, particularly by those in the aviation industry.

The article discusses the new whole body imagers and their potential impact on airport passenger flow and screening lines. The TSA representative, despite educated opinions from actual airport operators, says that the new technologies will not slow down passenger flow because the length of time people spend at the checkpoints is actually a factor of how long it takes to put their bags through the x-ray machine, not going through the magnetometer.

This is why TSA has such low credibility with airport and airline operators. This type of thinking is reflective of policy makers who do not know enough to listen to the people actually running the systems and implementing the technologies — i.e. the real experts.

Of course the whole body imager is going to affect passenger screening checkpoints, just the way the expanded screening criteria did after 9/11. With more screening lanes and technologies and screeners checkpoint areas underwent massive expansions, pushing out into revenue producing spaces and slowing down passenger flow. When new checked bag technologies deployed to airports, airport operators had to strengthen flooring, add power for new power requirements, and adjust to deviated passenger flow patterns and slower passenger movement.

The WBI’s are larger than a metal-detector, heavier than a metal-detector and require more power. It takes 15-30 seconds for one person to go through one, whereas a metal detector takes about a half second. Anyone who says that the real time at the checkpoint is spent putting their bags on the x-ray and not at the metal detector hasn’t flown much in the past 9 years — at least where they’ve had to walk through a checkpoint. Then again, maybe that’s the problem as TSA exempts itself from screening.

Plenty is the time I’ve stood waiting for a passenger to successfully get through the metal detector (especially infrequent flyers), or waited while more bins were hauled backwards through the metal-detector, or waited for the screener to do yet another document check. While the x-ray of carry-on baggage does take longer in the grand scheme of things it’s ignorant to think that installing heavier, more power-hungry, larger and slower technologies will not affect passenger flow. Which is exactly why many TSA decisions are not trusted in the aviation industry.

We saw this last year with the Large Aircraft Security Program, which was drafted completely devoid of industry input and devoid of any understanding of the general aviation world. What’s strikingly odd to me is that I know many TSA employees and call some of them friends. Many DO have backgrounds in aviation security and understand the system. So, why are the TSA policy makers so ignorant? Maybe it’s because that level of expertise in the aviation industry doesn’t extend to those areas and it should. Maybe they should think about putting someone in charge who understands the system.

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