The Transportation Security Administration is examining the possibility of doing away with passenger screening at small- and medium-sized airports across the United States, according to CNN. The news was part of “internal documents from a TSA working group,” which said that eliminating screening could save $115 million each year.
The working group’s proposal would cover more than 150 airports that offer flights predominantly with 60 or fewer seats. Travelers making connecting flights at bigger airports would need to go through security at the second airport, an approach that differs from the current system of letting them into the screened pool at other US airports once they’ve proceeded through the TSA’s enhanced measures at the original location.
The working group determined that the policy change would affect about 10,000 passengers who are screened by 1,299 TSA employees daily, which amounts to about 0.5 percent of the people who fly out of US airports on any given day.
Last year, the TSA began requiring all electronics larger than a smartphone to be placed in separate bins during the screening process. It also temporarily barred laptops as carry-ons for incoming flights from some countries before eventually lifting the ban a few months later. In recent years, the agency has explored ways of hardening airport security rather than loosening things up. Only a few days ago, it was reported that the TSA has quietly been tracking US citizens who aren’t on any government watch lists.
Antiterrorism experts think the idea is reckless
TSA officials and counterterrorism experts have been quick to criticize the proposal as needlessly dangerous, noting that terrorist groups continue to actively target airports and commercial flights (regardless of passenger count) nearly 17 years after the September 11th attacks. The working group’s assessment said that halting screening at select airports could introduce a “small (non-zero) undesirable increase in risk related to additional adversary opportunity.”
A TSA spokesperson told CNN that the issue comes up annually, saying “the regulations which established TSA do not require screening below a certain level, so every year is ‘the year’ that TSA will reconsider screening.” So this idea of cutting screening at small airports has come up before and ultimately been rejected; that could prove to be the case here yet again.
But the working group’s formation is evidence that TSA leadership is taking a much more serious look at the possibility. The working group gave no formal recommendation to the TSA on which path to take, per CNN’s report, but has met to discuss and analyze the potential security risks.