TSA Must Fully Embrace Threat Based Aviation Security


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TSA Must Fully Embrace Threat Based Aviation Security

By Shane Nolan

July 18, 2011 - Captain Lee Moak, president of the Air Line Pilots Association, Int’l (ALPA), sent a letter to the U.S. House Subcommittee on Transportation Security reinforcing pilots’ call for a threat-based approach to security screening that focuses on intent rather than on objects, and for a Transportation Security Administration reauthorization bill that enhances successful security programs while working to close existing gaps. 

“We are gratified by the Transportation Security Administration’s positive response to ALPA’s position that a philosophical shift is needed in this country’s approach to aviation security,” said Capt. Moak. “Airline pilots are already thoroughly screened as a condition of their employment.  

We are particularly pleased with the administration’s support of alternative screening for pilots because it uses limited resources more effectively and moves away from a ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach to security.”

In the letter, which was sent in preparation for the Subcommittee’s hearing entitled “Industry Perspectives: Authorizing the Transportation Security Administration for FY 2012 and 2013,” Capt. Moak emphasized ALPA’s call for a screening system that allows passengers with known backgrounds to be promptly cleared through security and focuses greater resources on those individuals whose background is unknown or in doubt.  

In 2010, ALPA released a white paper titled “Meeting Today’s Aviation Security Needs: A Call to Action for a Trust-Based Security System,” which advocated determining the risk posed by each passenger through a combination of publicly available information, human interaction, and behavior-pattern recognition. 

Capt. Moak also cited the successful and widely respected Federal Flight Deck Officer (FFDO) program, which positions federally credentialed, armed pilots trained and managed by the Federal Air Marshal Service to serve as the last line of defense of the cockpit. He appealed to Congress to significantly increase funding and managerial oversight of the FFDO program to help realize its full potential as one of the most cost-effective security initiatives implemented since 9/11. 

ALPA also underscored to the Subcommittee the need to improve threatened airspace management through the creation of a clearly defined, prioritized plan to control the national airspace in the event of a major terrorist attack. Such a plan would ensure the security of the air transportation system but avoid a total or substantial closure of the airspace.


Finally, ALPA’s president pointed out in the letter the importance of pursuing known solutions to closing existing gaps in the security of all-cargo flight operations. All-cargo flights remain exempt from many security practices that are mandated for passenger airlines, such as requirements for a hardened flight deck door and fingerprint-based criminal history record checks for persons with unescorted access to aircraft and cargo.  

Capt. Moak asked Congress to address these deficiencies to ensure the safety and security of the crew and other individuals both aboard these aircraft and on the ground below their routes.

“ALPA recognizes the significant progress made under the TSA’s leadership toward truly realizing a threat-based approach to aviation security,” concluded Capt. Moak. “We look forward to the tremendous opportunity presented by this reauthorization and other initiatives to make aviation security and the passenger screening process as efficient and effective as possible to the benefit of everyone who depends on air travel.”

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