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Security

Screener privatisation struggles for effect as TSA holds sway

11 May 2018
Artist’s impression of the new terminal at Paine Field. Source: Propeller Airports

The operating model of US airports does not encourage the transition to checkpoint screening privatisation

On 18 April 2018 the Greater Orlando Aviation Authority ended moves to replace Transportation Security Administration (TSA) workers at Orlando International Airport with private-sector screeners.

Working with airport officials, the TSA opened three additional lanes at the West Checkpoint on 13 April. To staff the new lanes, TSA deployed officers from the National Deployment Force (NDF): a group that typically deploys nationally for emergency situations, but will cover operations at Orlando International until new full-time officers complete training. Airport and TSA employees alike will also be required to undergo new customer service training.Covenant Aviation Security provides certified checkpoint screening staff for several US airports under the TSA Screening Partnership Program, including San Francisco International. (Getty Images)Covenant Aviation Security provides certified checkpoint screening staff for several US airports under the TSA Screening Partnership Program, including San Francisco International. (Getty Images)

While the TSA is addressing the long checkpoint lines and customer service issues that spurred discussion at Orlando International, the long-term prospects for US commercial airport privatisation – in any form – remain unclear.

Sticking with the TSA

Since 2004, US commercial airports have been eligible to apply for the TSA Screening Partnership Program (SPP). The SPP allows “qualified private vendors to perform the screening of passengers and property under federal supervision using TSA guidelines”, said TSA spokesperson Sari Koshetz. “TSA remains neutral on any airport’s decision to apply to be in the SPP.”

Few airports have chosen the SPP option. After 14 years, only 22 out of about 450 eligible commercial airports in the United States have migrated to private screening, among them the original five pilot airports: Greater Rochester International, New York State; Jackson Hole, Wyoming; Kansas City International, Missouri; San Francisco International, California; and Tupelo Regional, Mississippi.

Of the other 17 participants in the SPP (see infographic), eight are small airports in Montana with seasonal screening requirements; there are no pending SPP applications.

The lack of headway in SPP reflects the prevalent ownership model in the United States. Unlike in European countries such as Germany and France - where private sector companies such as Fraport and Groupe ADP drive operational efficiencies at Frankfurt and Paris Charles de Gaulle respectively – the TSA is both regulator and operator for security operations.

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