The TSA administrator, John Pistole, told me last Monday morning that the agency was about to announce new policies that would address the absurdity of requiring on-duty pilots to submit to TSA checkpoint inspections of their persons and possessions, and the agency has now done that.
The agency says that a nationwide sterile area access system for pilots is being phased in, and pilots traveling in uniform on airline business will see immediate modifications to their checkpoint screening process "due to their trusted status." Eligible pilots must work for a U.S. carrier, be traveling in uniform, and on airline business. Pilots will enter the secure area after presenting their airline-issued identification and another form of identification. TSA officers then will check 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.
Flight deck crewmembers who utilize this program will also be subject to random screening and other layers of security, the agency said.
"Pilots are trusted partners who ensure the safety of millions of passengers flying every day," Pistole said. "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."
Airline pilots unions hailed the move.
"Establishing a secure system to positively identify and verify the employment status of uniformed pilots is a common sense, risk-based approach that allows TSA to dedicate more resources to unknown threats," said Capt. Paul Onorato, president of the Coalition of Airline Pilots Associations.
"The U.S. Airline Pilots Association appreciates the TSA’s willingness to work with us to find a solution that recognizes what an important asset pilots are to the security process,” staid the president of that union, Mike Cleary.
The Allied Pilots Association called it "a very welcome policy change."
The TSA said it is working closely with pilots to expedite their security screening by verifying their identity and employment at the checkpoint at airports nationwide, modeled after a successful pilot program that is currently operational at three airports.
In conjunction with the Air Line Pilots Association International, TSA tested a sterile area access system called CrewPASS in 2008 and 2009. In June 2009, TSA announced Crew Personnel Advanced Screening System (CrewPASS) would continue to operate at the test sites: Baltimore-Washington Thurgood Marshall International, Pittsburgh International, and Columbia (S.C.) Metropolitan airports.
The move addresses an obvious absurdity that has long vexed pilots. A pilot doesn't need a "prohibited item" to cause a plane to crash. So searching pilots makes no sense. The new move is, of course, predicated on having an utterly reliable identification system in place, and that obviously will include biometric data.
This is definitely a victory for common sense, and John Pistole deserves credit for doing it.