For this DeteCT expert interview, we are fortunate to get the perspective of Christopher Bidwell. He has had a distinguished career in aviation security and a unique understanding of how industry stakeholders work with the Transportation Security Administration (TSA). In his current role as Vice President of Security for Airports Council International – North America (ACI-NA), he works with the TSA and Congress to identify risk-based aviation security measures that increase both efficiency and effectiveness, and serves as ACI-NA’s technical expert on aviation security processes, procedures, technology. Prior to ACI-NA, he was managing director for security at the Air Transport Association, and held safety and security management roles at American Airlines, Reno Air, and United Airlines.
DeteCT: ACI-NA member airports enplane more than 95 percent of the domestic and virtually all the international airline passenger and cargo traffic in North America. That’s a lot. What are their priorities in terms of aviation security?
CB: Our focus at ACI-NA is to work with the US Department of Homeland Security (DHS), U.S. TSA and the U.S. Congress to ensure airports have the ability to efficiently move travelers through their facilities, and, in coordination with TSA and the airlines, provide for their security. Part of that work involves advocating for legislative and regulatory policies such as increased investment in staffing and aviation checkpoint security technology, but another big part of what we do is to facilitate effective communication between airports, TSA and other aviation security stakeholders.
DeteCT: Many of our readers are from outside the United States. What is different about the ways that U.S. airports address aviation security compared to other countries?
CB: Although U.S. airports perform numerous aviation security functions, their role is significantly different than many of their international counterparts in that they are not responsible for screening passengers. Before 9/11, U.S. airlines, under the regulation of the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration, were in charge of screening passengers. After 9/11, Congress established the U.S. TSA, under a new Department of Homeland Security. The legislation that created TSA transferred security responsibilities to the newly-created agency from the FAA, and directed TSA to provide for screening passengers and bags. So, unlike most airports outside the U.S., TSA is the regulator, setting the security regulatory standards for airports and airlines, the enforcer, through its compliance and enforcement activity, and the operator, by purchasing, testing, deploying, maintaining and providing staff to operate screening technology at airport security checkpoints.
DeteCT: What role do U.S. airports play in terms of aviation security today?
CB: U.S. airports have numerous aviation security responsibilities including: public area and perimeter security, providing law enforcement, and performing background checks for applicants seeking access to secured areas of airports. In addition, airports remain, in the eyes of travelers and the public, one of the key stakeholders for aviation security. Each U.S. airport works collaboratively with airlines, federal, state and local law enforcement, and the TSA to ensure that every passenger has the best possible security experience.
Airports have also shown leadership through different innovations and initiatives. One of the high-profile areas has been the deployment of automated screening lanes (ASL’s). There are other areas as well, including “behind-the-scenes” security measures, such as the installation of wait time monitoring systems, enhanced background checks and random security measures for airport employees and contractors, serving as pilot locations to test new and emerging security technology and working with TSA to design streamlined checkpoint configurations to improve throughput.
DeteCT: What are ACI NA’s top security policy priorities right now?
CB: Our biggest priority going forward is to ensure that TSA has adequate funding to provide staff at airport security checkpoints, and for aviation security technology, such as checkpoint CT. Better technology is absolutely critical if we are going to stay one step ahead of terrorist threats. When combined with automated screening lanes (ASLs), checkpoint CT has the potential to increase security and passenger throughput.
DeteCT: We share your urgency on that front! Speaking of funding, what is the status of the Passenger Security Fee that is now collected from travelers?
CB: After 9/11, Congress established the Passenger Security Fee to help fund the costs of TSA screening personnel, research and development, procuring, operating and maintaining screening technology. Unfortunately, Congress continues to divert a large percentage of the fee collections to pay for non-aviation security items. We think that is big a mistake.
DeteCT: How has this impacted airport security?
CB: One of our biggest concerns is that the diversion of funding has slowed the deployment of new technology, and reduced the staffing available for checkpoints during peak travel periods. This has caused a decrease in funding for research and development of new technologies and has increased line waits during peak travel. If you are not funding research and development of new security technology, there is a potential risk you will fall behind emerging threats.
DeteCT: You’ve worked in aviation security for a long time. Any final words of advice to the new TSA administrator?
CB: ACI-NA is committed to continue to work with TSA to develop risk-based, intelligence-driven measures that provide effective security while minimizing the impact on passengers and airport operations. On the subject of aviation security technology, I would emphasize that while a solution can work great in the lab, for it to be really effective in the real world, TSA needs to continue to conduct operational testing, and coordinate with airports. TSA has to make sure that it sequences the deployment of new technology. We don’t want to create a situation where airports to have to reconfigure checkpoints each time a new solution is implemented.
DeteCT: Excellent advice. Christopher – thanks for your time!