The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) is considering ending screening of passengers at about 150 smaller airports across the country. Those airports serve planes with 60 seats or fewer and see about 10,000 passengers per day. Passenger screening at those airports requires nearly 1,300 TSA workers at a cost of $115 million per year.
Mike Bilello, a TSA spokesman, said the idea was something the agency was studying as part of its annual budget review. If the TSA were to eliminate staffing at smaller airports, screeners who have a lot of time on their hands between flights at small airports could be moved to bigger airports where there is more passenger traffic. Passengers would still be screened before boarding the largest jets, like the ones used in the September 2001 terrorist attacks.
If the plan were enacted, connecting passengers would have to go through a screening process when they arrived at larger airports. The proposed screening model in this case would resemble how international passengers are screened by customs and immigration processing at the first U.S. airport they reach. This could increase costs for larger airports that would have to build out facilities for this additional screening.
A report detailing the potential changes was followed by a swift firestorm of criticism. Aviation-security experts say terrorists could still use the smaller aircraft as a weapon or fly from an unprotected small airport and attack after reaching a bigger airport. Other critics say that ending TSA screening at the smaller airports would considerably reduce the number of passengers flying from those airports, harming the businesses associated with the airport and in the surrounding area.
The TSA is responsible for the daily screening of 2 million passengers, 4.9 million carry-on bags, and 1.3 million checked items. It provides security for more than 23,000 domestic flights and nearly 2,800 outbound international flights per day. Its 43,000 officers have confiscated about 2,500 weapons at TSA checkpoints from people who would have carried them onboard aircraft.