Interesting opinion article by former TSA chief Kip Hawley on CNN in which he makes a strong case for changes that are needed at the agency.
Hawley’s main points are that TSA officers should be allowed to use their initiative and be encouraged to think for themselves rather than be forced into enforcing mindless rituals (such as repeating directions to remove shoes, belts, keys, liquids) that make them unpopular with travelers.
“Once officers are allowed to think for themselves, it opens the door for mistakes and criticism. But people can be taught the fundamentals of risk management, which provides a framework for making informed judgments,” Hawley says. “Armed with substantial intelligence resources, TSA's air marshals, inspectors and security officers need to be nimble in thinking about and applying the principles of risk management. But they also must be empowered to act.”
Hawley recommends that intrusive pat-downs be discontinued in favor of a lighter technique supplemented with available technologies; that the "prohibited items" list be radically reduced to ban only real security threats such as explosives and toxins; that FAA should make it a serious federal offense to intimidate a member of the flight crew or another passenger with a blade so TSA can remove blades from the banned list; and that the one-quart bag rule for liquids also be dropped. He also says that passengers should be chosen randomly for shoes and coat inspections. And he says TSA staff needs to be retrained in risk management and encouraged to use their own judgment and experience, consulting with team members, to make prudent discretionary security calls.
All of this is eminently sensible, is in line with IATA’s call for a more risk-based approach to air transport security, and would enhance security while also improving the passenger experience.
But you only have to look back to spring, when TSA’s current administrator John Pistole announced the agency would no longer ban small pocket knives and sports sticks onboard aircraft, to realize the dilemma. There was a hugebacklash from several US airlines and flight attendant organizations. Almost immediately, TSA was forced to delay its new ruling.
I fully supported the TSA initiative in an editorial and continue to believe it was a move in the right direction.
But this is one of those rare cases where IATA and the airlines cannot point the finger at the US government; instead, they need to look within. It was the airlines (with support from some lawmakers) that forced TSA to step back from a policy that was very much in accordance with IATA’s Checkpoint of the Future initiative. Indeed, at the same AVSEC conference in New York in March where Pistole announced the new rules on knives and sports equipment, IATA DG and CEO Tony Tyler gave a speech that was very much in line with what Pistole was attempting to do and what Hawley recommends in his editorial.
“We cannot accept 100% risk. And any regulation that completely eliminated risk would shut the industry down—an equally unacceptable solution. A pragmatic approach is needed,” Tyler said in New York. “We must put desired results at the center of our efforts. We must recognize that 99.9999%—if not more—of passengers and freight pose no threat to aviation. So we need to make better use of the information that is available to assess the risk of the people, objects or situations that can pose threats.”
Intelligence and pragmatism are the best tools when it comes to addressing security risks and preventing attacks. But IATA and A4A need to ensure their member airlines understand this and that they are unified in fully supporting TSA’s attempts to make the changes IATA says it wants.