US airlines are “concerned” about potential Transportation Security Administration (TSA) funding decreases, and oppose any increase to the airline passenger security fee to fill agency budget gaps, an Airlines for America (A4A) official said.

Speaking to reporters on a March 20 conference call, A4A SVP-legislative and regulatory policy Sharon Pinkerton said the spring 2016 “meltdown” at US airport security checkpoints, leading to extremely long queues, should give the Trump administration pause before reducing TSA funding levels. In a budget blueprint released last week, US President Donald Trump suggested that TSA should focus its resources on airport passenger screening checkpoints, and proposed that 75% of the agency’s aviation security budget should be funded by the airline passenger security fee imposed after 9/11.

Funds from the security fee—which is $5.60 per flight segment and capped at $11.20 per roundtrip ticket—covered about 37% of TSA’s aviation security costs in the US government’s fiscal year 2016. Even if revenue from the fee diverted to federal deficit reduction (about $1.3 billion annually) were returned to TSA, the fee revenue would still only cover about 62% of TSA’s aviation security budget. That suggests a significant fee raise would be necessary to meet Trump’s 75% target.

“The last time the fee was increased [in 2013 from $2.50 to $5.60 per flight segment], part of that [additional] fee revenue went to [general federal government] deficit reduction,” Pinkerton said. “Job number one for Congress and the administration is to change that and bring that money back to TSA.”

Pinkerton said US airlines spent about $50 million “of our own money” in 2016 to help alleviate long lines at airport security checkpoints. This included hiring contractors to carry out checkpoint functions that do not have to be operated by TSA officers, such as bringing used bins back around to the front of lines. Carriers are also footing the bill for the installation of trial TSA “innovation lanes” at major airports.

First trialed in Atlanta, where Delta Air Lines spent more than $1 million to implement the lanes, the lanes—also referred to as “automated” lanes—are now being tested at Chicago O’Hare, Dallas/Fort Worth, Los Angeles, New York Newark and Miami airports.

Airlines and TSA are now in daily contact about managing wait times at airport screening checkpoints, a practice Pinkerton said is necessary to continue going forward. She also encouraged TSA to aggressively promote enrollment in the Pre-Check expedited screening program, suggesting that the agency allow “families to sign up either for free or a reduced price” for the summer season, noting that currently anyone over the age of 13 must pay full price to enroll. TSA has not been receptive to this idea, she conceded, adding, “But we’re continuing to advocate that they think about it.”

Asked by ATW about whether A4A is worried a higher security fee could dampen air travel demand, Pinkerton said, “Our first concern is about raising a fee at the same time you’re diverting $1.3 billion [a year] away from TSA. That seems backwards … We think any amount [of increase] is too much when you’re diverting $1.3 billion away … We strongly disagree with [any] increase, especially given the revenue diversion.”

Aaron Karp aaron.karp@penton.com