TSA makes immediate changes to airline pilot screening

The Transportation Security Administration will be taking additional steps to streamline airport security procedures for pilots, who had objected to going through the advanced full-body imaging scanners or undergo what they viewed as invasive and unnecessary pat-downs, according to a pilot union executive and a soon-to-be-released agency announcement.

According to a written TSA announcement obtained by National Journal Friday, eligible pilots will enter a secure area after presenting their airline identification and an additional form of identification to the TSA officers, who will then cross-reference their credentials against a "secure, real-time airline flight deck crewmember database, which includes a picture and other information to verify the individual's employment status," the agency news release says.

Eligible pilots must work for a U.S. carrier, be traveling in uniform, and on airline business, the release says. In addition, "flight-deck crewmembers who utilize this program will also be subject to random screening and other layers of security,." it says.

"Pilots are trusted partners who ensure the safety of millions of passengers flying every day," TSA Administrator John S. Pistole says in the release. "Allowing these uniformed pilots, whose identity has been verified, to go through expedited screening at the checkpoint just makes for smart security and an efficient use of our resources."

Sam Mayer, communications director at the Allied Pilots Association, said the agency revealed the changes in procedure to the APA, the largest independent pilots association with a membership of 11,500 American Airlines pilots, earlier this morning.

"Pilots traveling in uniform on immediate business will see immediate modifications" to the screening process on the ground, Mayer said.

The TSA had "definitely want[ed] to get this resolved before the holiday travel season," he said.

The APA, whose members have been concerned about the health risks of repeated radiation exposure, had advised its members not to go through the full-body imaging machines and to opt instead for an enhanced pat-down procedure by a TSA official of the same sex as the pilot, potentially causing congestion at airport checkpoints and delaying flights.

"Basically, TSA administrator [John] Pistole has agreed with us," Mayer said of continuing discussions that the APA has held with the agency.

He added that Pistole admitted it was "stupid" to waste resources to screen a trusted group like pilots. Mayer described Pistole as saying, "Let's build a database and get on with it."

There has been no indication to the unions so far about what the full range of modifications will be, Mayer said. "We'll have to work with them [the TSA] over the next couple days to see what is going to be phased-in here, what exactly the details of the implementation process are. But it's a huge step in the right direction."

The pilots unions have been requesting a special biometric identification system for crew members for almost 10 years, Mayer told National Journal earlier this week. He noted that the current system is both time consuming and insulting to such a highly-vetted group of people, physically in charge of flying the airplanes themselves.

Now, Mayer said Friday, his union has "the commitment for the biometric program that we are looking for."

"We understand that's not going to happen overnight," he continued. "The hardware has to be bought and installed and the system has to be set up. We imagine that it's going to take a few weeks to get all the hardware and software on board, testified verified and working.

Mayer added that he is "concerned" about the intermediate steps as the groups work out the exact details of the long term solution, but that the airline management American Airlines, along with executives at other airlines, have been working internally with their pilot union counterparts to resolve the situation.

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