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CNN Exclusive: TSA considers ending security screenings at small airports

CNN's Rene Marsh reports.

Posted: Aug 2, 2018 2:38 PM
Updated: Aug 2, 2018 3:09 PM

If the Transportation Safety Administration eliminates security checkpoints at small airports, like the one Bryant Garrett runs in Redding, California, he worries nobody will be checking the bags and pockets of the hundreds of passengers who board planes there every week bound for San Francisco.

"Who would it be?" asked Garrett, the manager of Redding Municipal Airport, who had heard about the proposal, first reported by CNN on Wednesday.

"I, as the airport, don't want to take on either the liability nor the cost, and I'm quite certain the airlines don't want to take that on. So if TSA backs out, there's a void, and I don't know who would fill it."

Internal documents dated June and July obtained by CNN show a TSA working group is considering ending screening at more than 150 small- and medium-sized airports, which, like Redding, have commercial planes with fewer than 60 people per flight. Passengers connecting to other flights at larger hubs would go through screening before boarding their next flights, according to the documents.

TSA projections called for savings of $115 million annually and a "small (non-zero) undesirable increase in risk." An agency spokesman said the idea "is not a new issue" and the ending of screening is allowed under "the regulations which established TSA."

Redding's airport has six arriving and departing flights daily, each carrying about 50 passengers. Besides terrorism, Garrett said he was concerned with the logistics of screening passengers before their connecting flights, and he wondered who would pay for the armed security guard stationed at the airport; currently it's TSA.

Lawmakers upset

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer wrote in a letter to TSA that it is "crucial we continue to maintain one level of security and safety across our nation's airports."

"TSA documents proposing to scrap critical passenger security screenings, without so much as a metal detector in place in some airports, would effectively clear the runway for potential terror attacks," the New York Democrat wrote. "It simply boggles the mind to even think that the TSA has plans like this on paper in the first place."

Sen. Ed Markey wrote in a letter to TSA on Thursday he is "deeply troubled by this proposal." The Massachusetts Democrat noted that on September 11, 2001, terrorists boarded the two airplanes that felled the World Trade Center in Boston.

"We vowed to never repeat the mistakes of the past, which is why I urge you to reconsider any proposal that could jeopardize our aviation security," Markey wrote.

Rep. Bennie Thompson, the top Democrat on the House Homeland Security Committee, noted that the government's airport security fees, which are automatically added to commercial airline tickets, are not earmarked for TSA.

"If the administration is truly concerned with TSA's budget, it should urge Congress to ensure 100 percent of passenger security fees go to TSA so it can provide the level of security that terrorist threats necessitate," he said.

Thompson, who is from Mississippi, also noted the proposal could be bad for airports "especially in rural America."

Flight attendants, passengers upset

A major union of flight attendants vowed to "fight any measure to weaken aviation security."

"We are absolutely against removing TSA from any airport, no matter how small or large," the Association of Flight Attendants said in a statement. "TSA, together with other aviation workers, keep our skies safe. We promised to never forget after September 11."

At the Redding airport baggage claim, Allena Jones said her children fly to Los Angeles every summer.

"My children fly out of here every summer," Jones said. "If there is no security here for their protection, they would not fly out of this airport."

Another passenger, Pam Roberts, called the proposal "a bad idea," but said it would not deter her from flying.

"Oh, I probably would," she said with a laugh. "I'm an adventurous type."

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