By Keith Laing – 04/14/15 04:13 PM EDT
The top ranking Democrat on the Senate committee that handles transportation issues said Tuesday that airport employees should have to go through similar screening as passengers.
Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) said a 2014 incident at Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport involving an employee who was arrested for smuggling guns into areas beyond the facility’s security checkpoints and a incident this week involving an Alaska Airlines employee who fell asleep in the cargo area of an airplane that later took off showed the need to increased screening for airport workers.
“Last December, the most unbelievable thing was discovered in the Atlanta airport, where for six months an airport employee had been bringing guns into the airport – then going up into the sterile passenger area, rendezvousing with a passenger who had already come through TSA with an empty backpack, giving guns, including a carbine, and this went on for six months until he was finally caught, and the last time in December that he was caught, he had 16 guns in the backpack on the airplane,” Nelson told Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) chief Michael Huerta during a hearing of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee.
“Now thank goodness he was a criminal instead of a terrorist,” he continued.
Nelson said a pair of airports in his state have implemented screening for employees that is similar to the checks that passengers face before they board flights, but he said the practice should be much more widespread.
“It so happens of the 450 airports, there are only two that have solved this problem, and I happened over the recess to visit both. One is Orlando and one is Miami,” he said.
“And what they did was they took all of their hundreds of airport employee access points and boiled it down to a handful and then put up the same kind of screening that we as passenger go through in TSA,” Nelson continued. “But airports, of course, want money to help with that screening, but it’s absolutely necessary for the safety of the traveling public. So what about using FAA airport money to help airports do what Miami and Orlando have already done?”
The FAA’s Huerta told Nelson that the agency makes funds available to airports that want to boost their security mechanisms.
“As you know, the screening and security responsibility is a shared responsibility between the Transportation Security Administration and the local airport authority, and the FAA can support that as you mentioned, Senator, through the Airport Improvement Program,” Huerta said.
“The insulation of airport perimeter fencing is certainly something that we regard as a high priority for airport grants,” he continued. “We’ve provided close to $300 million in AIP grants over the last 10 years – so that’s an average of about $30 million annually – for specific security programs that have been requested by the airports.”
Huerta was testifying before the Senate committee about a forthcoming deadline for extending the FAA’s funding on Tuesday, but he said airports can apply now for funding if they so desire.
“We have two sets of AIP funding,” he said. “There are formula allocations that local airports receive, and then there is a discretionary program and the airport can work in cooperation with the FAA to establish the priority of how AIP funds get spent. And security is certainly something that is an eligible use there.”
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