Airport to privatize security force
By LYNNETTE HINTZE/Daily Inter Lake | Posted: Monday, July 2, 2012 9:30 pm
Glacier Park International Airport last week got its long-awaited approval to privatize the airport security force, a move the airport director says will enhance customer service.
The switch from federal Transportation Security Administration officers to privately contracted airport screeners likely won’t happen for several months, Airport Director Cindi Martin said. She has requested to have the privatization take effect next March or April, the airport’s shoulder season.
Martin said the decision to seek private airport screeners never has been an airport-versus-Transportation Security Administration issue; it’s a matter of finding a way to offer better customer service to passengers. A private contractor can train and hire workers more quickly and brings much more flexibility to the table, she said.
The federal agency’s approval of Glacier Park International’s application to participate in the Screening Partnership Program ends a four-year quest for the local Airport Board.
The board made the decision in 2008 to apply for the opt-out option that lets airports use private contract screening services under TSA oversight, and submitted its application in October 2009.
In January 2011 the application stalled when TSA Administrator John Pistole announced the opt-out program wouldn’t be expanded beyond the 16 airports already using it.
But in February, President Obama signed the Federal Aviation Administration Modernization and Reform Act of 2012, which outlined additional TSA requirements for Screening Partnership Program applications.
“That legislation required TSA to allow those pending applications to be reconsidered, so we asked for reconsideration,” Martin said.
Glacier completed a new application to the opt-out program and won approval.
The next step is for the federal agency to develop a request for proposals to find a qualified provider for security screening services, TSA spokeswoman Lorie Dankers said.
“TSA will only award a contract to a qualified provider for security screening services at an airport if the procurement maintains security and is cost-effective,” Dankers said.
Glacier airport had 24 full-time and eight part-time Transportation Security officers as of June 21.
Current security workers will have first right of refusal for the jobs and can request a transfer to another airport or federal agency.
Martin said TSA recently cut back security-force hours and declared Glacier a seasonal airport. To make up the difference, the agency sent five National Deployment officers — a kind of go-to seasonal team — to help out from July 1 through September 1.
The local Airport Board doesn’t have any say in staffing levels. Martin said she doesn’t know exactly how the new declaration as a seasonal airport will affect staffing in the long run.
“Any cut to staffing is a detriment,” she said.
The airport asked TSA to bring in a “divestiture coach” to help prepare passengers for the security process during the peak summer months, but the request was denied.
“Our biggest challenge is in the customer divesting and revesting,” Martin added, referring to the process of taking off shoes, removing laptop computers from bags and so on. “The more you carry on, the slower the process.
“We want to enhance the customer service experience,” she said. “We want customers treated with respect and not humiliated.”
Full-body scanners installed in March were a precursor to a gate-area expansion planned this fall at Glacier Park International. The remodeling will expand the secure area and stretch out the divestiture area.
Turn-style doors will be installed to funnel passengers out of the secure area, eliminating the need for a law-enforcement officer posted at the doors, Martin said.
A key reason for the reconfiguration is a pending requirement to create three lanes for travelers: for frequent, regular and high-risk travelers.
Features editor Lynnette Hintze may be reached at 758-4421 or by email at lhintze
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