Aviation Security Forum Update — August 12, 2008

FSDs Share Notes with Pilots
The TSA’s federal security directors (FSDs) oversee U.S. airports of varying size and safeguarding measures. AvSec 2008 brought four directors together as part of a panel discussion to talk about their responses to security directives and regulations, and the different obstacles they confront in protecting their properties.

“The National Capital Region is highly visible,” said Karen Burke, FSD for Washington National Airport, which caters to 9.3 million passengers a year. Burke, a former United Airlines station manager, discussed the challenges of serving the nation’s capital and the special requests she receives from dignitaries who frequent the close-in airport.

Joseph Terrell discussed how Pittsburgh is one of three airports involved in the 60-day test of the CrewPASS airport-screening program, and how this change maximizes airport security resources. Debra Engel, who oversees both Charleston and Myrtle Beach Airports, talked about the peculiar security demands of working with a facility that shares runways with an Air Force base. Annie Nelson compared her experiences as FSD at the Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport with her recent assignment as director at Richmond International.

The four panelists fielded questions about passenger and airline employee screening, security measures for passenger versus cargo operations, and the flexibility permitted in implementing policy.

Security as an Investment Pays Off
This year’s AvSec features many high ranking TSA policy makers, including Ray White, deputy assistant administrator for the agency’s Office of Security Operations (OSO). White highlighted the monetary value of investing in air transportation security, emphasizing the devastating toll a terrorist act can have on the economy.

White spoke about his ongoing role to provide regulatory and operational oversight for the entire spectrum of TSA security operations. He reviewed the 20 current layers of security in place to protect U.S. airports from terrorist and other criminal activities. The OSO officer applauded ALPA’s security efforts and emphasized the need to work together to share information and explore new ideas.

White’s policy-making authority extends to 450 federalized airports within the U.S. as well as the activities of TSA’s 55,000-plus security officers and staff.

MANPADS, the Unseen Threat
James Shilling believes the U.S. airline industry should be better prepared to deal with the threat of a man-portable, air-defense-systems (MANPADS) attack against an airliner when operating civil reserve air fleet (CRAF) duty. The director of business development for defense contractor Northrop Grumman pointed out that military charters, often operated by ALPA-member airlines, currently transport troops in and out of war zones.

Shilling stressed that these aircraft should be provided with systems to adequately defend against MANPAD attacks, adding that planes carrying high-ranking government officials and senior military officers currently offer these safeguards.

He talked about the ease of installing a recommended Northrop Grumman laser-based, counter-MANPADS system, encouraging AvSec attendees to press Congress for legislation demanding installation for CRAF operations. “If you don’t ask for it, the DOD and other government entities aren’t going to just give it to you,” he said.

MANPADS, Closer to Home
Could MANPADS pose a realistic threat to North American commercial aviation? An AvSec 2008 panel discussion addressing threatened airspace management examined this possibility, as well as the effects an attack could have on the air transportation system.

“Pilots have no guidance and no training,” responded Steve Westover, a FedEx MD-11 first officer who is a member of ALPA’s Threatened Airspace Management Project Team. He noted that airlines need to develop policy for this threat and to prepare their pilots for this possibility of an attack. He noted that MANPADS have been involved in 30 to 60 airline incidents around the world, and that prevention requires “layered countermeasures, increased cooperation between civilian organizations, and an informed public.”

Capt. Clyde Romero, ALPA’s MANPADS subject matter expert, spoke about different MANPADS deployment systems, highlighting their power and effectiveness. However, he noted, “If they can’t see you, they can’t hit you.” Romero, a former U.S. Army helicopter pilot, emphasized that early detection of these weapons is the key to mitigating incidents.

James Shilling, who provided the previous MANPADS presentation, discussed both aircraft and land-based defense systems, but noted that this topic requires greater public education and awareness. “From decisions to hardware, if we do nothing, nothing will happen,” he said, encouraging AvSec attendees to speak to other pilots and contact government representatives for legislative support.

Moderated by ALPA’s National Security Committee vice-chairman, Capt. Bill McReynolds (FedEx), the panel talked about the initial findings of the Department of Homeland Security’s MANPADS study. The panelists presented several videos depicting the weapons’ capabilities and available defensive measures, and answered audience questions.

To learn more about this threat, read the Association’s White Paper: Recommendations for Countermeassures to Man-Portable Air Defense Systems (July 2008).

A TSA Perspective and Retrospective
Morris “Mo” McGowan, TSA Assistant Administrator for Security Operations, shared some of his thoughts on aviation security with the pilots who attended this year’s ALPA Aviation Security Forum, held August 11-14 in Washington, D.C.

“I’d like to take an historical perspective,” McGowan stressed, “because sometimes we forget where we started.”

One evening in February 2002, while he was in retirement in the mountains of southern New Mexico, McGowan, a former Texas police officer, received a telephone call from Washington, D.C., asking him to move to Washington to help launch a new agency—the TSA.

Creating the TSA, he said, was “the largest civilian undertaking in the history of the U.S. government. They put us in a small conference room with several small tables. We had 20 employees.

“The way you should build an organization like this,” McGowan continued, “is from the top down—start with the leaders, then add the employees. We’d didn’t have that luxury; we had to build the TSA from the bottom up. We had to hire and deploy more than 50,000 people—just the uniformed officers!—by Nov. 19, 2002. We knew the only model we could build to was the existing model.”

McGowan confessed that he originally thought TSA would need five years to become a “mature” agency. “Now I think it’ll take another five years,” he said.

Meanwhile, McGowan warned, regarding terrorist threats to aviation security, “If anybody thinks this is going to go away, I can tell you it won’t. There are real threats, real people who want to do us harm. And their target is aviation.

“The terrorist threat constantly evolves—they probe us,” he continued. “They know the capabilities of our equipment, our officers, and our procedures. We knew that if we just built a Maginot line, they’d find a way around it. So we have to continue to evolve, too.”

As an example, McGowan said, on Aug. 9, 2006, “we had to change the paradigm for how we screen baggage in six hours. It’s amazing that we were able to do it, but we didn’t have any choice.

“There’s no document, no SOP, you can write that will prevent an attack,” he acknowledged. “But anything that disrupts [our adversaries], that makes ‘em think twice, is a win for us.”

For example, McGowan said, “You’d be surprised at the amount of money we’ve intercepted that was headed to the Middle East. Our ability to spot criminal behavior has become pretty good. We’ve seen a lot of forged documents coming from terrorist organizations. We’re also still catching a lot of guns at the checkpoints—18 last weekend alone.”

McGowan shared details on new passenger screening technology and procedures that are in the works. He added, “We require airports to run IED [improvised explosive device] checkpoint drills—we want officers to see, over and over, IEDs and components.”

Regarding security screener attrition, McGowan said, “Our attrition rate remains about 20 percent [per year] overall, and 13 percent for full-time screeners. We find that, if they [work as screeners] for 18 months, they’ll stay with us.”

McGowan declared that the TSA is “a unique agency because of the responsibilities we have. ALPA has free access to come see me—and they do. I’m committed, when I get that kind of information, to act on it—we get staff to take appropriate action.”