Last updated: 05:02 PM ET, Mon May 16 2016

Can Airports Really Dump TSA If They Want?

Airlines & Airports | Transportation Security Administration | Rich Thomaselli | May 16, 2016

Can Airports Really Dump TSA If They Want?

PHOTO: TSA’s screeners have been under fire of late. (Photo courtesy of Thinkstock)

If they hadn’t seen enough already, officials at Phoenix’s Sky Harbor had a good look at chaos last week.

In addition to long security lines at screening checkpoints, a “significant, unprecedented” technical issue with a computer server led to more than 3,000 checked bags left sitting on the tarmac – while passengers boarded flights and jetted off to their destinations, their luggage a day behind.

That was enough, indeed, for Deborah Ostreicher, the city's assistant aviation director, to suggest dropping the Transportation Security Administration’s oversight of security at Sky Harbor in favor of a private firm.

“One of those options is to utilize a contractor to provide security as some other airports have done,” Ostreicher said in a statement.

She’s not alone.

READ MORE: TSA Working to Shorten Wait Times At Airports

In the wake of long lines to reach security checkpoints in New York, Chicago, Atlanta and more, airport administrators are becoming more and more frustrated with the TSA’s need to ensure security with the speed to push passengers through so they won’t miss flights.

The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which operates the three major airports in the New York City area, sent a letter to the TSA threatening to replace the government agency with a private firm.

“We can no longer tolerate the continuing inadequacy of the TSA passenger services,” the letter reads.

But can it? Can Phoenix or New York or any other airport legally drop the TSA in favor of a private contractor?

Oh, not only is it legal, it’s already been done.

READ MORE: Atlanta Airport Gives TSA Ultimatum to Improve or Get Out

Some 22 airports out of more than 400 in the U.S. have already opted to use what is known as the Screening Partnership Program, or SPP.

The Screening Partnership Program contracts security screening services at commercial airports to qualified private companies. These companies run screening operations under federal oversight and must comply with all TSA security screening procedures. Companies interested in providing screening services can apply to the government; commercial airports interested in applying for the program may submit an application to the local airport federal security director.

And those 22 currently using the program include such big facilities as San Francisco International, Orlando-Sanford International and Kansas City International, as well airports in Sarasota-Bradenton, Key West and Rochester, N.Y.

In 2012, Rep. John Mica (R-Florida) helped push through a provision in aviation legislation that strengthened the ability of airports to utilize private firms for security screening. Mica, then transportation committee chair, oversaw a report stating that private contractors could be more cost effective than the TSA.


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