The Transportation Security Administration is mulling over the decision to eliminate security checkpoint screenings at 150 smaller airports catering to planes with 60 or fewer seats across the U.S., CNN reported on Wednesday. According to senior agency officials, the proposal could bring a “small (non-zero) undesirable increase in risk related to additional adversary opportunity.”
Almost two decades after the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, the once unthinkable idea of reversing or eliminating TSA screening measures could now become a reality. If implemented, the proposal would create a huge shift in U.S. air travel, including saving millions of dollars annually that could be funneled into security procedures at larger airports.
Internal documents from the TSA explain that passengers traveling from small airports would be subject to security screenings when they arrive at larger airports for connecting flights as the facilities are better equipped with more advanced security measures.
A TSA working group met to examine the potential risks of the policy change and determined that about 10,000 passengers traveling in the U.S. would be affected daily, amounting to 0.5 percent of the total number of travelers.
A spokesperson for the TSA, Michael Bilello, commented on the proposal.
“Any potential operational changes to better allocate limited taxpayer resources are simply part of pre-decisional discussions and deliberations and would not take place without a risk assessment to ensure the security of the aviation system.”
He also added that there is still “no decision to eliminate passenger screening at any federalized U.S. airport.”
The news that the TSA is reconsidering the screening process has come as a shock to both TSA officials and terrorism experts and many were quick to criticize the decision, calling it reckless and dangerous.
Paul Cruickshank, a terrorism analyst at CNN, expressed that he was troubled by the news.
“[It’s] stunning that this is even seriously being considered. Al Qaeda and ISIS still regard aviation as a priority target — that includes aircraft where you have fewer than 60 people on board.”
The concern over the issue is also related to the nature of the September 11 attacks. Two of the attackers initially boarded planes from Portland, Maine, a smaller airport that was perceived to be less secure.
When then-DHS Secretary John Kelly announced the laptop ban from carry-ons that took place in June 2017 in more than 100 countries, he emphasized that the threat of aviation terrorist attacks was still very real.
“The threat has not diminished. In fact, I am concerned that we are seeing renewed interest on the part of terrorist groups to go after the aviation sector — from bombing aircraft to attacking airports on the ground,” CNN reported.