ALPA Reps Talk Security with DHS Secretary

ALPA president Capt. John Prater had what he later described as a “very positive” hour-long meeting with Janet Napolitano, secretary of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, at DHS headquarters in Washington, D.C., on June 29. Joining Prater were Capt. Robb Powers (Alaska), chairman of ALPA’s National Security Committee, and Jim Andresakes, supervisor, Aviation Security, of the ALPA Engineering and Air Safety Department. Noah Kroloff, DHS chief of staff for policy, and Art Macias, chief of staff, Office of the Administrator, Transportation Security Administration (TSA), also participated in the discussions.

The ALPA reps talked about the Association’s four greatest concerns regarding airline and airport security: the need for (1) improvements in the Federal Flight Deck Officer (FFDO) program, (2) secondary cockpit barriers on all passenger and all-cargo airliners, (3) transition to a trust-based aviation security screening system, and (4) improvements to security in the all-cargo domain that will achieve one level of safety and security equal to that of passenger airlines.

Regarding the FFDO program, Prater pointed out that the program needs more money (ALPA has asked Congress to double the program’s budget). He said the size and organization of the inadequately staffed managerial structure that administers the FFDO program also needs an overhaul. One measure of the program’s budgetary woes is a recent slowdown in the rate of acceptance of FFDO candidates into the program.

As for secondary cockpit barriers, Prater reiterated ALPA’s strong support for this equipment, noting, “We believe they add much to the security equation.” Secondary barriers force a would-be hijacker to reveal his or her intent and slow down the hijacker, thus giving the flight crew time to take appropriate defensive actions. While United Air Lines has been able to install secondary barriers in some of its passenger fleet without much cost, the standards for secondary barriers are being developed in an RTCA Special Committee (a government-industry group that develops technical standards to recommend to the FAA). RTCA SC-221 is working to establish minimum operations specifications (MOPS) for the hardware and accompanying crew procedures, and is expected to complete its work in December 2010.

Prater and Powers briefed the secretary on ALPA’s proposal to change the current U.S. airport security screening system from one that searches for objects to a “trust-based” screening system that streamlines the passage of vetted passengers and employees through screening and focuses on detecting persons with malicious intent. Napolitano agreed in principle, “acknowledging value in what we had to say,” Powers reports. She also cited efforts along these lines already used at some foreign airports to screen passengers bound for the United States.

Regarding needed improvements in all-cargo security, the ALPA reps thanked Napolitano for improvements that DHS has made in cargo security. However, the bulk of those improvements have been made regarding belly freight on passenger airliners. Although some improvements have been made in the all-cargo domain, work remains to be done to achieve one level of safety and security for passenger and all-cargo airlines.

The ALPA reps pointed specifically to the need for (1) reinforced cockpit doors on all-cargo airliners, as is required on passenger airliners—both for retrofits and new freighter designs, and (2) better security training for all-cargo flight crews.

Training on the “Common Strategy” to thwart terrorism is mandatory for pilots and flight attendants who work for passenger airlines but is voluntary in the all-cargo world. (This despite the fact that, in the final rule it issued on cargo security in May 2006, the TSA acknowledged that the greatest security threat to all-cargo airliners is the possibility of a hostile takeover.)

The conversation briefly touched on the lack of requirements for a security identification display area (SIDA) on cargo ramps. Cargo operations are not afforded the protections that passenger airlines, with SIDA restrictions, have had for some time.