Big changes needed at TSA, ex­perts say

Los Angeles Times - - BUSINESS BEAT - By Hugo Martin hugo.martin@la­times.com Twit­ter: @hugo­martin

The Trans­porta­tion Se­cu­rity Ad­min­is­tra­tion is on the ropes again — reel­ing from news that un­der­cover fed­eral agents had a 95% suc­cess rate at sneak­ing fake bombs past air­port se­cu­rity check­points.

In re­sponse, the head of the Depart­ment of Home­land Se­cu­rity has “re­as­signed” TSA’s act­ing ad­min­is­tra­tor. But se­cu­rity ex­perts sug­gest big­ger changes are needed, such as mak­ing huge in­vest­ments in new screen­ing tech­nol­ogy and over­haul­ing the en­tire agency.

“This or­ga­ni­za­tion is not per­form­ing to stan­dards of ac­cep­tance, at all,” said An­thony Ro­man, a for­mer com­mer­cial pi­lot and pres­i­dent of Ro­man & As­so­ciates Inc., a global in­ves­ti­ga­tion and risk man­age­ment firm. “You have to start from scratch.”

Be­sides re­plac­ing the lead­er­ship at the agency, Ro­man sug­gested that the TSA em­ploy face-recog­ni­tion soft­ware to iden­tify po­ten­tial ter­ror­ists and con­duct regular au­dits to look for weak­nesses in the se­cu­rity process, among other changes.

Dou­glas Laird, a for­mer Se­cret Ser­vice agent and one-time head of se­cu­rity at North­west Air­lines, said the agency needs to in­vest heav­ily in ad­vanced tech­nol­ogy to re­place decades-old screen­ing de­vices, such as X-ray scan­ners.

“If you don’t give them the tech­nol­ogy to find what they are look­ing for, you can’t blame the screen­ers,” said Laird, who is now a se­cu­rity con­sul­tant.

Some crit­ics have called for nix­ing the TSA al­to­gether and re­turn­ing se- cu­rity re­spon­si­bil­i­ties to the in­di­vid­ual air­lines. But the na­tion’s air­lines don’t want the sole re­spon­si­bil­ity.

“We be­lieve na­tional se­cu­rity is in­her­ently a gov­ern­ment func­tion,” said Jean Me­d­ina, a spokes­woman for Air­lines for Amer­ica, the trade group for the na­tion’s car­ri­ers.

“Fly­ing is the safest form of trans­porta­tion and that is be­cause of the multi-lay­ered ap­proach to safety and se­cu­rity, and co­op­er­a­tion be­tween air­lines, air­ports, gov­ern­ment, man­u­fac­tur­ers and la­bor.” Ranks of low-cost car­ri­ers are ex­pected to in­crease

Ul­tra-low-cost car­ri­ers with thin­cush­ion seats and a long menu of pas­sen­ger fees reap hefty prof­its, and that is why f liers can ex­pect a ma­jor ex­pan­sion in such low-fare car­ri­ers in the next few years.

Den­ver-based Fron­tier Air­lines, the lat­est car­rier to con­vert to an ul­tra-low cost air­line, an­nounced last week that it had or­dered 12 new Air­bus air­craft, in­clud­ing 10 jets that can hold as many as 230 pas­sen­gers each.

Fron­tier al­ready has back or­ders for an ad­di­tional 89 planes with Air­bus, the Euro­pean air­craft man­u­fac­turer. The cur­rent fleet has 55 planes.

“This an­nounce­ment paves the way for us to grow, mod­ern­ize and re­new our fleet while help­ing us build a strong foun­da­tion for the fu­ture,” said Barry Biff le, pres­i­dent of Fron­tier Air­lines.

Spirit Air­lines, based in Mi­ra­mar, Fla., has plans to ex­pand its fleet from 80 planes this year to 144 by the end of 2021.

The ex­pan­sion ef­forts are fu­eled by a drive for big prof­its. Ul­tra-low­cost air­lines en­joy among the big­gest profit mar­gins in the in­dus­try.

Spirit posted net profit of $225 mil­lion in 2014, up 27% from the pre­vi­ous year. Fron­tier, a pri­vately owned com­pany, had net in­come of $129 mil­lion last year, com­pared with $11 mil­lion in the pre­vi­ous year, ac­cord­ing to fed­eral data.

But not ev­ery­one likes low-cost air­lines.

Fron­tier and Spirit have the coun­try’s high­est pas­sen­ger com­plaint rates, with 15.84 com­plaints per 100,000 pas­sen­gers for Fron­tier and 10.27 com­plaints per 100,000 pas­sen­gers for Spirit, ac­cord­ing to the lat­est data from the U.S. Depart­ment of Trans­porta­tion.

The av­er­age rate for all air­lines is 2.04 com­plaints per 100,000 pas­sen­gers. 7-Eleven plans to open con­ve­nience store in LAX

Los An­ge­les In­ter­na­tional Air­port will be­come the first air­port in the na­tion this month to add a 7-Eleven con­ve­nience store.

The store will open June 24 in the Tom Bradley In­ter­na­tional Ter­mi­nal, of­fer­ing many of the same snacks and drinks of­fered at neigh­bor­hood stores. That in­cludes the gi­ant 32ounce Big Gulp. (Don’t try to get that through the se­cu­rity check­point.)

One ma­jor dif­fer­ence is that most neigh­bor­hood 7-Eleven stores are open 24 hours a day. The one at LAX will be open only from 6 a.m. to mid­night.

Scott Olson Getty Images

SOME CRIT­ICS of the Trans­porta­tion Se­cu­rity Ad­min­is­tra­tion have called for nix­ing the TSA and re­turn­ing se­cu­rity re­spon­si­bil­i­ties to the air­lines. But the na­tion’s air­lines don’t want the sole re­spon­si­bil­ity.

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