Airline pilots passed through security checkpoints at O'Hare International Airport on Tuesday without being scanned for explosives and other prohibited items.
The change occurred under a new program intended to sharpen scrutiny of potential high-risk passengers and speed up screening lines. Expedited screening of some pre-approved passengers will be the next step as the government fine-tunes its response to an ever-changing security threat.
But for now the Transportation Security Administration implemented the Known Crewmember program in Terminals 1, 2 and 3 at O'Hare in a joint test with the Air Line Pilots Association International, the largest pilot union; and the Air Transport Association of America, which represents many major airlines.
TSA officials use laptop computers to verify the identification of pilots and their employment status by checking multiple photo IDs and real-time airline data. The pilots then go through a crew lane at each checkpoint without undergoing body-scan imaging, walking through metal detectors, submitting to pat-downs or removing their shoes or jackets, officials said. Their carry-on bags are not searched, either.
“It was a very pleasurable experience. I didn't have to disrobe,” said Sean Cassidy, a captain at Alaska Airlines who is also first vice president for the pilots union. ”And the process helps the TSA redefine its focus on finding potential threats among passengers.”
The Tribune first reported in June about the new program, which has been under development for at least four years.
“This enhanced screening process recognizes the extensive background checks pilots receive,” Lee Moak, president of the pilots union, said in a statement.
But some security experts have warned that the TSA test to pre-approve pilots as safe to fly is flawed because it does not include a biometric match, such as fingerprints or iris scans, to positively verify identity. The experts said this omission could possibly be exploited by terrorists posing as pilots.
Two previous TSA tests of expedited pilot screening relied in part on biometric verification.
More than a dozen airlines are participating in Known Crewmember at O'Hare. The goal is to expand it to all U.S. airline pilots, officials said. Airline officials said the cost of implementing a biometric-based program was a concern, prompting the new security test at O'Hare that, they said, still meets the requirement of positively verifying a pilot's identity and employment status. A biometric component could be added later, officials said.
Known Crewmember is scheduled to begin at Miami International Airport later this month, officials said. Additional tests will be conducted this year at Boston Logan International Airport, Washington Dulles International Airport, Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport, Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport and Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, officials said.
The Air Transport Association on Tuesday urged the TSA to act quickly to include flight attendants in the expedited screening of flight crews.
The TSA is also working toward launching a ”trusted traveler“ program that will offer reduced security screening for airline passengers who register and agree to release some personal information and undergo a background check. The passenger program will start this fall at two airports, with more sites and airlines phased in over time, officials said. It likely would initially involve passengers who are already participating in existing programs run by U.S. Customs and Border Protection.
The security agency has not publicly laid out how ”trusted travelers“ will be screened. Aviation industry sources said participants probably won't be required to take off their shoes or remove laptop computers from carry-on bags.
All passengers can already opt out of going through full-body scanning machines, but they would face a physical pat-down by a TSA employee. Under trusted traveler, passengers would likely be required to walk through metal detectors.
The initial trusted traveler tests will be conducted using certain frequent fliers on Delta Air Lines on flights departing Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport and Detroit Metro Airport; and selected passengers on American Airlines flying out of Miami and Dallas-Ft. Worth International Airport, officials firstname.lastname@example.org