Senate Bill Would Significantly Boost Airport Security Practices

The measure contains a series of travel security provisions that Senate Republicans have promoted as the most comprehensive increase in airport security in nearly a decade.

WASHINGTON – The Senate this week approved bipartisan legislation that would boost airport security in the wake of the Brussels attacks and authorize the programs of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) through September 2017.

The 95-3 vote sends the measure to the House of Representatives, where lawmakers have been unable to make headway on their own FAA bill because of differences over a provision to privatize the U.S. air traffic control system, the Associated Press reported.

The Senate measure, which sidesteps the privatization issue, contains a series of travel security provisions that Senate Republicans have promoted as the most comprehensive increase in airport security in nearly a decade.

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Following last month’s attack in Brussels and the destruction of a Russian airliner by a suspected bomb last year, several security-related provisions were added:

  • Authorizing an increase from 30 up to 60 in the number of government “viper teams” that stop and search suspicious passengers in airport public areas that are outside the security perimeter, often using bomb-sniffing dogs.
  • Requiring the Transportation Security Administration to use private companies to market and enroll more people in its PreCheck program while ensuring PreCheck screening lanes are open during high-volume travel times. The aim is to reduce crowds waiting for security screening by vetting more passengers before they arrive to get them through checkpoints faster.
  • Enhancing the vetting of airport employees who have access to secure areas, expanding random inspections of employees and reviewing perimeter security.
  • Requiring secondary barriers on all new passenger airliners to keep unauthorized people from gaining access when a pilot opens the cockpit door. The wife of a pilot killed in the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks led the lobbying effort to require the barriers.

The bill also would remove obstacles to commercial use of drones while enhancing privacy and safety protections. It requires that within two years the FAA authorize package deliveries by drones. The agency would create a small drone “air carrier certificate” for operators of delivery drone fleets, similar to the safety certificates granted to commercial airlines. The rules are needed for Amazon and other companies to deploy fleets of delivery drones.

Another provision would require the TSA to restore passenger screening at small airports where airline service has been reduced would force the agency “to reallocate staff and equipment from higher-risk, higher-need facilities,” the White House said in a statement.

The White House criticized the bill’s delivery-drone language as “overly prescriptive” and said it would disrupt the agency’s ongoing efforts to write safety regulations for commercial drone flights.

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