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Reason Foundation

Airport Policy and Security Newsletter #69

Airline crew screening alternatives, rethinking Europe's airport slot system, implementing Trusted Traveler

Robert Poole
June 7, 2011

In this issue:

Competing Alternatives for Airline Crew Screening

It ought to be a no-brainer: provide a simple way to enable cockpit and cabin crew to bypass TSA’s one-size-fits-all screening checkpoints. After all, cockpit crews have control of a potentially lethal guided missile. Some are authorized to carry guns, and all have access to a large rescue axe in the cockpit; surely we don’t need to check them for box-cutters. And cabin crews these days are trained as the first line of defense against would-be trouble-makers on flights, as demonstrated in cases like the shoe bomber and the underpants bomber. Moreover, implementing this simple policy change is an obvious step toward permitting alternative screening for millions of other Trusted Travelers, which TSA Administrator John Pistole has assured us they are working toward.

But the program seems bogged down in controversy over who will do what and who will pay for what. Two different systems have been tested at airports, and another one will begin airport testing this summer. Best-known is CrewPass, which has been in airport testing (at Pittsburgh, Columbia, and Baltimore) since June 2008. It meets the basic requirements set forth by TSA in June 2009 (real-time verification of employment, biometric confirmation of identity, and capable of handling both cockpit and cabin crew). It uses ARINC’s Cockpit Access Security System (CASS), but many airlines don’t want to pay ARINC to gain access to their own data employee data for this purpose. And CrewPass is intended to be domestic-only, which limits its appeal to many airlines with extensive international routes.

Southwest proposed a test of a different system, which TSA allowed to be implemented for a two-month pilot program at BWI in autumn 2008, jointly sponsored by Southwest, its pilot union, the Coalition of Airline Pilots Associations (CAPA), and Priva Technologies (which developed the biometric verification technology). That test was considered a success. Last November, American Airlines proposed an improved version of that system to be implemented first at its DFW hub. Called SecureCrew, it has been endorsed by the International Air Transport Association (IATA) as the proposed international system, with KLM designated as the first international participant. TSA has denied that request, apparently because it wants a domestic-only system but also, some allege, because it is committed to use of ARINC’s CASS.

Now comes yet another system, unveiled April 1st and discussed in more detail in Aviation Daily June 1st. The Air Transport Association (ATA) and pilots’ union ALPA have received TSA approval to test their KnownCrew system at Miami and Chicago O’Hare, beginning as early as the end of June. ATA will provide laptop computers for TSA checkpoints at MIA and ORD, which will tap directly into airline personnel databases to verify employment status (bypassing ARINC’s CASS). It will apparently not include a biometric verification—both SecureCrew and CrewPass use fingerprints for this purpose—which means it does not comply with all of TSA’s June 2009 specifications. In response, ARINC is proposing to lower the fees it charges airlines for its CASS-based system.

TSA is at fault here, in several ways. First, it has let “testing” of CrewPass drag on for three years without making a decision, turned down a proposed system that has won international approval, and now approved testing a third system that fails to include a biometric verification (using only a photo for this purpose). It needs to move speedily to a decision and get the selected system into widespread U.S. airport use. I can see doing domestic-only to start, but there should be a globally interoperable system soon thereafter, and the IATA-blessed SecureCrew looks pretty good to me.

Questioning Europe’s Airport Slot System

Last month, Aviation Intelligence Reporter pointed out an unusual change in the views of European airline groups. The Association of European Airlines (AEA) and rival European Low Fare Airline Association (ELFAA) issued a joint position statement supporting the EU status quo on the question of airport slots. As AIR pointed out, only a year ago those two groups were on opposite sides of a major debate: whether existing use-it-or-lose-it rules on slots should be suspended due to the great recession. AEA, whose members held a lot of unused slots, argued for suspension, while ELFAA and its members clamored for access to those slots. ELFAA lost that battle.

The recent peace treaty was inked in response to the anticipated release of a European Commission study on EU slot rules, which both associations rightly feared might lead to major changes from the status quo. And the report, by Steer Davies Gleave, released on June 1st, did not disappoint. It identified numerous problems with the current slot allocation rules, which prevent the limited capacity at numerous EU airports from being optimally used, hindering competition and leading to congestion and delays. In particular, it estimated that a more economically efficient approach to slot allocation would accommodate up to 28 million more passengers per year and generate over $7 billion in economic benefits by 2025. The Commission’s transport director, Siim Kallas, announced that he plans “to bring forward legislation this autumn to tackle this issue.”

In drafting that legislation, the EC aviation staff should pay careful attention to an excellent paper that appeared last year in Transport Policy. (“Airport Slot Allocation: A Time for Change? By Michael A. Madas and Konstantinos G. Zografos of the Transportation Systems & Logistics laboratory at Athens University of Economics & Business, available for purchase online from www.elsevier.com/locate/tranpol) The authors carry out a very comprehensive assessment of five possible strategies for dealing with slot allocation. They assess the applicability of each strategy to four different types of airports (ranging from small national spokes to super hubs) and measure the effects of each strategy against a number of policy criteria and indicators. It’s the most comprehensive assessment of slot allocation policies that I’ve seen.

The five strategies, each defined by a variety of individual policies are:

The five strategies were assessed against a whole raft of criteria by several panels of stakeholder and policy experts. The congestion pricing strategy “was generally considered to be the most appropriate solution for all airport clusters with respect to its compatibility with identified policy criteria and their associated indicators.” Separately, demand management was also assessed quantitatively using a macroscopic analytical queuing model called DELAYS.

In summing up their results, the authors list the advantages of congestion pricing over administrative measures and the other demand management strategies:

  1. It is simple and inexpensive to implement.
  2. It does not involve drastic regulatory changes.
  3. It can be implemented very quickly.
  4. It removes the need to administer slots.
  5. It substantially enhances carriers’ scheduling flexibility.
  6. It directly addresses congestion via congestion fees.

“Most importantly, the congestion pricing strategy efficiently accommodates the policy requirement of flexibility and expandability, because it introduces a very open and adaptive framework which can be easily adapted to the local airport needs and characteristics.”

Trusted Traveler Progress: Not Whether, but How


Speaking at the American Association of Airport Executives 83rd annual conference in Atlanta last month, TSA Administrator John Pistole said that “Just six months into this process [of developing risk-based screening], we have made good progress toward developing a long-term security construct that we hope could eventually change the flying experience for most travelers.” The first step will be implementation of expedited screening for airline flight crews (see earlier story in this issue). But “Eventually passengers who can be deemed ‘low risk’ after volunteering information ahead of time could be eligible for expedited screening,” Pistole said, while acknowledging that the vast majority of air travelers pose little to no risk.

Both the Wall Street Journal (May 5) and Aviation Daily (May 6) have suggested that TSA is seriously considering use of airline frequent-flyer membership data as part of the background check for Trusted Traveler applicants. Airline databases often have many years, or even decades, of such people’s travel histories. That information, combined with the same type of FBI criminal history background checks used for airport workers, could be a powerful combination for deciding who should be “trusted” as a member of the program. And to prevent someone showing up at the airport with forged Trusted Traveler ID, the program will almost certainly need to include a biometric identifier (fingerprint or iris scan) to verify that the person at the checkpoint is the same person previously cleared.

It’s also encouraging to see serious work going on to figure out how to harden a Trusted Traveler program against terrorist attempts to exploit it. A new RAND working paper offers a thoughtful, quantitative analysis of this issue. (“Assessing the Security Benefits of a Trusted Traveler Program in the Presence of Attempted Attacker Exploitation and Compromise,” by Brian A. Jackson, Edward W. Chan, and Tom LaTourrette, WR-855-RC, May 2011, www.rand.org/pubs/working_papers/WR855.html)
The three ways terrorists could try this are:

  1. Apply and be granted membership in T.T.;
  2. Dupe or coerce a T.T. member into carrying weapons onto a plane;
  3. Convert or recruit a T.T. member.

The bulk of the paper is an analysis of T.T. program design, thinking through and modeling the trade-offs involved in making the program robust.

The researchers conclude that, assuming their model of detection performance is based on reasonable assumptions, a “hardened” T.T. program could still produce security benefits. They also find that “different response and hedging strategies are needed to deal with the different potential routes attackers may take to exploit such a system.” Among the key variables are how stringent the background check must be (which poses its own tradeoffs about cost and privacy) and how much reduction from “ordinary” screening is provided for T.T. members. The details are too much to try to summarize here, but I’m impressed with the analytical way in which Jenkins, et al. address these issues.

Common-Use Facilities Increasing, Despite Some Opponents


Traditionally, most U.S. airports have afforded airlines exclusive-use gates, ticket counters, etc. Airlines generally preferred that approach, which allowed them to brand everything (and also had the advantage of making it harder for new entrants to gain enough gate and counter space to offer meaningful competition). In the past decade, U.S. airports have begun to shift toward common-use facilities, like their corporatized and privatized counterparts in Europe and Australia have had for much longer.

As an air traveler, I remember being inconvenienced by exclusive-use gates many years ago, arriving in the evening (several hours late) at my destination airport, only to find that my airline had no gates available. We sat on the tarmac for at least half an hour (making me even later), looking at empty gates of other carriers, while the airline managed to rustle up the people to move one plane to make space for us at one of its own gates. That would not have happened in Europe, where the nearest empty common-use gate would have been used.

U.S. airlines are becoming more receptive to common-use facilities, for at least two reasons. First, such facilities reduce their costs, since shared counters, kiosks, and gates mean the airport can operate efficiently with fewer of each. Second, today’s technology permits video displays at each gate location to be branded with the logo and information of the airline currently using it; likewise, check-in kiosks immediately call up the airline system of the passenger’s choice. Airlines still tend to resist common-use at their major hubs, where the economics are less compelling for the dominant carrier. But that has not prevented Miami International (an American hub) from converting nearly all the gates in its greatly expanded north and south terminals to common use.

San Jose has done likewise, as part of its terminal modernization, as has Raleigh-Durham for its new Terminal 2. Another common-use pioneer has been Las Vegas McCarran International, which has 200 common-use kiosks for passenger check-in (though only 22 of the airport’s 33 airlines are using them). Others planning to move to common-use include Burbank, John Wayne/Orange County, Orlando, Phoenix, and San Diego.

Behind the recent advances in common-use facilities is an international standard, jointly sponsored by the International Air Transport Association and Airports Council International: Common Use Passenger Processing System (CUPPS). Four years in development, CUPPS involved inputs from about a hundred participants, including airports, airlines, and IT companies. The 1,000-page technical document was released in November 2009. Four principal vendors are in the market offering CUPPS-compatible systems: ARINC, SITA, RESA, and Ultra. Each provided equipment for operational testing at a major airport during the development process. Airline participants included American, Lufthansa, Qantas, Southwest, United-Continental, and Westjet.

John Wayne Airport is expected to be the first U.S. airport fully CUPPS-equipped, while Burbank, Phoenix, and San Diego have recently issued RFPs for such systems. Orlando, which was one of the CUPPS test sites, is encountering resistance. Some of its airlines that have avoided the airport’s current common-use kiosks (e.g., Southwest), are balking at going forward with CUPPS. So is a local software company which claims its proprietary system is better than those compatible with CUPPS.

My assessment is that common-use is the wave of the future, as airports worldwide adopt a fully commercial paradigm, whether corporatized, privatized, or still operated directly by state or local governments. The efficiency benefits are clear, and many airlines will see cost savings as airports make more productive use of all their assets.

“Smart Fence” Could Aid Perimeter Protection

For years I’ve been harping on the TSA’s huge over-investment in guarding the front door (passengers getting on airplanes) while leaving various back doors poorly guarded (access from terminal to tarmac for airport workers, access to the airfield from outside the fence). Many airports still have little more than a chain-link fence to protect their perimeters, but recent R&D at the University of Southern California seems likely to make possible what USC researchers are calling a “smart fence.”

Their breakthrough is a small seismic sensor that is programmed to recognize various types of movements, including footsteps. Motion-sensing video can be spoofed by wind and weather, creating false positives. Video protection of an airport perimeter can also be fairly costly. The USC devices use signal processing algorithms “based on the way the brain works,” researcher Alireza Dibazar of USC’s Biomedical Engineering Department told Discovery News. The devices are battery-powered, and only shift to full-power mode when they detect an unauthorized movement, at which point the power is turned up and they transmit the information wirelessly to a command center. The wireless devices would be placed on the ground or attached to the fence, at unspecified intervals.

The USC team has contracts from the Navy and TSA to develop this technology, especially for locations where video cameras are either not feasible or would be too costly. They have tested the “smart fence” devices at high schools and also at several smaller airports in the greater Los Angeles area. Their largest test thus far was last year at the new Northwest Florida Beaches airport near Panama City. They have subsequently received queries from other airports.

Unfortunately, those airports will have to wait awhile. While the prototypes exist, and appear to work well, the system has not yet been commercialized. Besides protecting airport perimeters, the smart fence has many other potential markets. In an article for Homeland Security Journal, Robert Josefec of the Naval Postgraduate School’s Center for Homeland Defense and Security cites airports, borders, and critical infrastructure facilities as likely markets. Let’s hope commercialization of the smart fence happens soon.

News Notes

Russia’s Domodedovo Airport Delays IPO
DME Ltd., which holds the lease of Moscow’s busiest airport, Domodedovo, announced on May 30th that it will postpone the initial public offering of shares it had unveiled only two weeks before. Incorporated in the Isle of Man, DME plans to list its shares on the London Stock Exchange, hoping to raise $1.0-1.5 billion for a 20% stake. But after investors raised concerns about political risks, DME decided to wait for more favorable market conditions. The airport was criticized by the Russian government after a terrorist attack killed 37 people there in January.

Bomb-Sniffing Dogs for LAX
The Los Angeles Police Foundation last month unveiled the Pro-Active Canine Team (PACT), a crew of dogs supposedly capable of detecting explosive residues on a person walking past. LAX police chief George Centeno said that PACT is the first program of its kind and one he expects other airports to consider implementing.

American Supports San Juan Privatization Plan
As anticipated in last month’s issue, Puerto Rico officials and American Airlines announced they have reached agreement on the state’s plan to lease the airport under the federal Airport Privatization Pilot Program. Together, American and American Eagle handle 45% of all passengers at Luis Munoz Marin International Airport in San Juan. In order for the state to make use of lease proceeds for non-airport purposes, they must obtain the consent of 65% of the airlines using the airport and of airlines representing 65% of the annual landed weight.

European Commission Delays Liquids-Ban End to 2013
At the end of May, the European Commission—bowing to strong opposition from a number of EU member governments—rescinded its plan for a partial easing of the ban on liquids in carry-on luggage. The U.K. Airport Operators Association welcomed the decision, saying “We are not convinced that the equipment is up to the job.”

Branson Airport Gets a Reprieve
Privately developed Branson Airport LLC has been having trouble making required debt service payments out of operating revenues, which are still well below the projections in its business plan. But its medium-term prospects look positive enough that holders of $113 million in airport bonds reached a “forbearance agreement” with the company in April. Under its terms, the airport can continue to use reserve funds for working capital and debt service payments through June 30, 2012. If the airport meets various financial targets by that date, the agreement can be extended for another year. The agreement is aimed at giving the airport time for revenues to “become sufficient to meet all operating and debt service costs” and “stabilize its business.”

Napolitano Dinged on Pat-Down Numbers
In the question period after a recent speech in Georgia, DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano said that only “[V]ery, very, very few people get a pat-down. It’s only under very limited circumstances.” The Georgia division of PolitiFact decided to do some checking. TSA told them that during March, 3% of passengers experienced a full pat-down procedure. Based on TSA’s figure of about 2 million people going through security per day, PolitiFact calculated that this means 1.8 million people get this treatment each month, and that 1.8 million per month is not “a very, very, very small number.”

Briscoe Field Still Moving Towards Privatization
The Gwinnett County, Georgia commissioners voted 3 to 2 to proceed with an RFP to be sent to the three pre-qualified teams interested in leasing Briscoe Field under the Airport Privatization Pilot Program. The bidders will be American Airports Corp., Gwinnett Airport LLC, and Propeller Investments Briscoe Field. A study on potential sites for a second Atlanta metro-area airport, commissioned by Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport, had ruled out the Briscoe airport, contending that the large ($2.25 billion) facility envisaged by that study would require airspace redesign to avoid conflicting with ATL’s northeast arrival corridor. In response, Propeller Investments stated that the 10-gate facility it proposes to build would not cause such conflicts.

Quotable Quotes

“[A]nother area where the [European] airlines are aligned is that of secondary trading for slots. Ask the airlines and they will tell you that the secondary trading system, as understated as it is, works fine. Of course it works fine for the recipient of the occasional windfall gain. Get a slot for nothing; sell it for a huge sum. Works fine. Windfall gains are a clear sign of a market not working, not a working market. Ask the entities that spent the money building the slot--the airports and/or the ANSPs [air navigation service providers]--if they think it works so well. Secondary trading works fine for the airlines: it cements the position of the incumbent. No airline is interested in giving new entrants lower cost entry to an airport, for example, by way of leasing slots as opposed to an upfront sale involving huge amounts of cash. And given that there is no trade association for yet-to-be-created airlines, the existing airlines’ trade associations can claim unanimous support for that view.”
--Andrew Charlton, “Slotting Right In,” Aviation Intelligence Reporter, May 2011.
 
“I don’t see bin Laden’s death having much effect long-term relative to the U.S. security posture. Our security-informed but politically driven airport security apparatus must be fundamentally transformed to better accommodate the low-risk passengers while focusing greater security resources on those posing a higher risk.”
--Roger Dickey, quoted in James Ott, “Business as Usual,” Aviation Week, May 9, 2011, p. 24.

“Imagine you are among the majority who don’t see what the fuss over travel data is about. You authorize TSA to access data about you—travel data, say, and perhaps criminal or other records. When you show up for your flight, your boarding pass has already been coded that you are entitled to use the Trusted Traveler lane. Good thing, too, because that line is much shorter. The TSA official checks your ID and boarding pass as usual, but he waves you into a fast lane, where the most aggravating and time-consuming security procedures have been eliminated—the liquids and laptop inspections, perhaps the shoe inspection too. . . . Every once in a while, though, scanning the boarding pass sets off a beep, and the officer waves you into a standard line for the usual drill. This is a random event, programmed into the system in advance based on all the data that TSA has. The line is still a lot faster, because only a few of the Trusted Travelers end up in the standard inspection, but that random event makes it difficult for terrorists to game the Trusted Traveler program. The upshot would be faster inspections, less hassle, and more security. More privacy, too, for those who think that giving up a little information is a fair trade for fewer scans and patdowns.”
--Stewart Baker, “Rethinking Privacy at the Airport,” March 17, 2011 (http://volokh.com/2011/03/17/rethinking-privacy-at-the-airport)


Robert Poole is Searle Freedom Trust Transportation Fellow and Director of Transportation Policy


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