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DHS and Other Federal Agencies Wasting Time and Money Searching Aircraft?

I make it no secret that I am not a fan of TSA.  They like to waste a lot of money, and I don’t feel that they are as effective as they could be when I hear about people accidentally getting large knives through security.  That being said, they do prevent many weapons from getting on airplanes, and probably more importantly they deter more than we will ever know.

On the other hand I feel like other agencies are on a bit of a wild goose chase, and in some people’s opinions are targeting completely innocent people.  I came across an article from The Atlantic written by James Fallows talking about the rash of pilots being searched by various agencies for no apparent reason and it reminded me of an experience I had a few years ago.

The Cessna 208 Caravan is used by numerous cargo carriers all over the world.

The Cessna 208 Caravan is used by numerous cargo carriers all over the world.

I was working at an FBO in Austin, TX pulling the night shift which was generally pretty boring.  Other than the occasional late businessman most of our work involved getting ready for the next day, and handling the same few cargo planes that came in every single night.  We actually became friends with these pilots as they were our only company at night.

On one of these routine nights, we had a Cessna 208 Caravan come in with a pilot that had been flying this same route for at least five years.  I went out to greet him as I always did, and as I stood up from chocking his plane I heard another jet pull in that I hadn’t even seen because it pulled in so fast.  I quickly grabbed another set of chocks and ran over to the jet to chock it as well when I saw the words Border Patrol painted on the engines.

I approached the plane like always and greeted the crew asking what I could do for them.  It was about that time that I realized they had weapons out and they just lifted a hand and told me to wait, so naturally I did.  I merely went about my normal job just watching them all from a distance.

The Border Patrol agents performed their search without incident took a few hundred gallons of fuel and left within about two hours.  When I asked the pilot what was going on he said they felt he had flown to close to the Mexican border so they had followed him up for about an hour or so just to check the plane.

Just to be totally clear this is what happened.  A registered cargo carrier that flies the exact same route, in the exact same plane, with the exact same pilot, at almost exactly the same time every night MIGHT have flown straight on departure a little longer than usual.  In response four Border Patrol agents flew a private jet for a couple of hours to poke around at a few boxes, buy $6,000 in fuel, and go back home for the night.

In talking to the pilot this happens about once a year or so, which is an incredible waste of time and money.  In the grand scheme of things $6,000 isn’t that much money, and it wasn’t a terrible inconvenience for the pilot who has become accustomed to it, but that isn’t something that any normal law-abiding citizen should have to deal with.

These agencies do provide a valuable service with certain things that they handle, but it seems to me that some of the decision-making processes need to be reviewed.  If people are really being profiled in any way like the above article suggests then they may need a little more than a simple review.

May 30, 2013 I Written By

I'm Dave and I am a proud Avgeek. It goes way beyond liking airplanes. It is a passion that cannot be subdued.

Is the TSA Finally on its Last Leg?

It is no secret that I am in no way a fan of the TSA.  I don’t feel like we are any safer today than we were before TSA came to exist.  There have been countless changes in the way screening takes place, but still there are numerous occurrences of dangerous items getting through security.

On top of the lack of improvement in security, it has become increasingly more difficult just to get through the checkpoints.  We have to take off jackets, belts, shoes, and anything else that may contain just about anything other than lint.  It seems crazy that we should have to plan our wardrobe around the security checkpoint at the airport.

Maybe less commonly noticed is the complete and utter idiocy of many of TSA’s measures.  When babies are showing up on the no-fly list something is wrong with the way that list is being generated.  This is merely one example of how messed up the entire organization is.

Apparently, all of the bureaucracy and BS that is the TSA may finally be coming to an end.  Christopher Elliott wrote a very informative post regarding a congressional hearing about the TSA last week.  It is one of the most straightforward descriptions of how messed up TSA is that I have ever read.

What it really comes back to is that the organization is a complete mess and change needs to happen.  Maybe now we will see some real change to make traveling better for everyone.

December 3, 2012 I Written By

I'm Dave and I am a proud Avgeek. It goes way beyond liking airplanes. It is a passion that cannot be subdued.

Alaska Airlines Letting Passengers Tag Their Own Bags; Processing Passengers 30% Faster

For anyone that has been late for a flight and needed to check a bag, they know how painful it can be to stand in line while someone in front of you takes fifteen minutes to check their bag.  I have always found it interesting that I can stand in line and watch ten people take a good 5-10 minutes each, yet I walk up and am out of there in under a minute.  Whether you are late or not, it is painful how long some people take.

Alaska Airlines is now making that process simpler by allowing passengers to tag their own bags.  Much the way that we have been printing our own boarding passes for years, they will now let you tag your bags and hand them to the TSA agent.  Apparently, in many other countries they will let you do the whole thing unsupervised, but naturally TSA wants to maintain their job security, so they have to watch you.

This was one of those things that made me go “duh” when I read about it, because it just seemed to be such on obvious way to save time in the whole process.  According to an interview Jeff Butler of Alaska Airlines did with The Cranky Flier, it has actually shaved 30% off the time it takes passengers to be processed, which is a significant enough that Alaska is working to make this a reality at all of the airports they serve.

Unfortunately, TSA is once again trying to make it as difficult as possible.  The above mentioned article goes into more detail about the whole process Alaska went through to get permission, and it is pretty ridiculous if you ask me.  Not only did they have to prove the safety of their program, they must reapply for permission to implement it every time they want to roll it out somewhere new.

Time is quickly becoming one of the biggest assets in aviation.  People want, and in some cases need, to be able to flow through an airport as quickly as possible from the time they pull up, until they drive away after arrival.  That is why we see all of these new programs to get you through security faster, and why airlines have invested so much money on kiosks that allow you to print your own boarding pass.

A 30% reduction in processing time is a big enough benefit that every airline will likely look at this option, if they aren’t already.  Maybe that is the push that TSA needs to streamline the process and make it easier for airlines to use this new concept.

I remember as a kid being able to walk into the airport, get through security, and be at the gate in fifteen minutes or so, but now I have to plan to be at the airport at least an hour early if I don’t want to miss my flight, and I live in a relatively small city.  Speeding up the whole process would be a benefit to everyone involved, and hopefully TSA will not be the speed bump that prevents everyone from taking advantage of it.

July 17, 2012 I Written By

I'm Dave and I am a proud Avgeek. It goes way beyond liking airplanes. It is a passion that cannot be subdued.

With the Choice of Dropping TSA will Airports Make the Switch?

I hate TSA.

I know that I am not alone in that sentiment.  I think it is one of the biggest wastes of money in the federal government.  The quality of the product borders on ridiculous.  There are the well documented cases of not being allowed to take a cupcake through because it has too much “gel” in the form of frosting, and the obvious removal of shoes, jackets, and who knows what else in the future.  Of course there is also all of the uproar over full body scanners that can easily be seen as an invasion of privacy.

Beyond the well documented accounts, we all have experiences of forgetting a knife or some other weapon in our bag that gets completely missed.  I even had one friend who had forgotten two knives, but only one was found by the screeners.

An article in the New York Times made me aware of something that many people may not realize: since TSA was created in 2001 airports have been allowed to request permission to replace federal screeners.  To this point only 16 airports have been given permission to make the switch, but others are beginning to consider the option despite TSA saying they will no longer accept applications last year.

In response to that decision by TSA, Representative John L. Mica, Republican of Florida, included a provision in aviation legislation that strengthens the ability of airports to switch to private screeners which passed in February.  Mica represents the district that includes the Orlando Sanford Airport that is anxiously trying to switch to private screeners.

According to the above mentioned article, the committee that supported the provision estimated that  if the 35 biggest airports in the country switched to private screeners, the government would save $1 billion over five years.  I wouldn’t be surprised if those numbers were inflated to prove their point, but everyone agrees that private screeners are cheaper than TSA.

In an economy, and aviation industry, where every dollar counts, how can this not become a more viable option for the nation’s airports?  The answer is TSA being unwilling to give up their monopoly.  If they are forced to compete against private companies that have to operate efficiently, they will have to change the way they operate.  They will no longer be able to waste millions of dollars on useless purchases like changing the color of shirt their employees wear, and that is awesome.

If this provision does nothing more than force TSA to operate more efficiently and effectively, then it is one of the best bills I have heard about in recent memory.  Here’s hoping that airports are actually able to have the screeners they want to have without any unnecessary hoops to jump through from the government, but what are the odds of that happening?

What is your take on the value of TSA over private screeners?

March 26, 2012 I Written By

I'm Dave and I am a proud Avgeek. It goes way beyond liking airplanes. It is a passion that cannot be subdued.

User Fee Debate Overshadows FAA Reauthorization Bill

It is amazing how something so good can happen at the same time as something so dumb.  On Tuesday, President Obama signed into law the FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012 which provides four years and $63.4-billion in funding for the FAA.  This follows 23 short-term funding bills over the past five years.

All of the experts applauded this action as it provides a certain amount of stability for an organization that has been in limbo for half of a decade.  Most people overlook the fact that the lack of funding for the FAA has also meant a lack of funding for a lot of very important airport development projects.

The irony of the situation is that just the day before, on Monday, President Obama released a budget that included user fees of  $100 per flight as well as increasing the passenger security fee from as low as $2.50 to as high as $7.50 over the next 6 years.  This increase could cause very serious issues for an industry that is still struggling in a variety of ways.

It is amazing to me that you could do something so detrimental the day before doing something so valuable.

The first concern is obviously money.  Aviation companies, both commercial and business, are struggling to make ends meet in any way that they can.  Commercial airlines will not be affected quite as much since they will simply pass the fee on to the passengers which they won’t really notice either since the $100 per flight will spread out to less than a dollar for most flights.

The security fee will be worse, but again, airlines will pass it along to the passengers, and with the high price of tickets most people will simply write it off.  But I know that I for one am tired of paying more and more for plane tickets.

Bigger business aviation companies will also not feel the pinch nearly as much since $100 really isn’t that big of a deal when you are dropping tens of thousands of dollars on fuel for every trip.  The real pain will be felt by the little guys who have less of an impact on fuel purchases, but who are responsible for a much larger portion of the total flights.

These smaller jets routinely purchase only a few hundred dollars worth of fuel because that is all they need.  They also fight tooth and nail to not pay landing fees at FBO’s because even $50 more for each flight makes a huge difference to their bottom line.  Having worked at an FBO I have seen how hard these guys fight for every dollar, because they have to.

Now they are proposing that these users pay an additional $100 for each and every flight, if they fly in controlled airspace.  Talk about a gray area.  Even people who teach aviation have a tough time defining what exactly controlled airspace is.

Does that mean that every little single-engine prop is going to have to come up with an extra $100 for every flight when they are only spending $50 on fuel?  But this becomes a much bigger issue than just money.

If the choice is between paying $100 and simply flying VFR instead of IFR, then what choice are most of these little guys going to make?  A lot of them are flying short legs anyways, so how hard is it to just fly VFR?  The vast majority of passengers won’t even realize that their safety is at risk as opposed to being under the control of air traffic controllers.

They use the excuse that aviation needs to pay for its own security, which in principle I don’t have any problem with.  The problem that I have is that the government continues to impose new rules and regulations and then expecting users to just eat the costs.  In reality, how much safer are we now than we used to be?

My own personal feelings about TSA will have to wait for another day, but the point is that the government once again feels that throwing money at a problem will be a solution despite all of the evidence to the contrary.  Look at most government-funded programs and you will see that money is generally not the real issue.

So, while I am ecstatic that the FAA is now funded for a period that will allow some serious work to take place on NextGen ATC, and a bunch of other badly needed development, I hate to see that the government is asking for even more of a sacrifice from an industry that is already struggling.  Pretty much every sector is struggling, and they all need to make changes and pull their own weight, but the changes to these fees simply is not the answer.

February 16, 2012 I Written By

I'm Dave and I am a proud Avgeek. It goes way beyond liking airplanes. It is a passion that cannot be subdued.

Airport Executives Seek to Expand Trusted Traveler Program Beyond Elite Fliers

February 14, 2012 Alexandria, VA — The American Association of Airport Executives (AAAE) — the world’s largest airport organization, representing thousands of men and women across the country who manage and operate the nation’s airports — pledged its support today in working collaboratively with the Transportation Security Administration and Customs and Border Protection to grow the PreCheck trusted traveler program to accommodate additional fliers as quickly as possible.

“Airport executives long have advocated for the adoption of a robust, nationwide trusted traveler program to better identify and scrutinize potential threats while improving passengers’ experiences at the airport,” AAAE President Chip Barclay said.  “The recent announcement by TSA that the agency intends to bring its PreCheck trusted traveler program on-line quickly at additional airports is welcome news, and airport executives are eager to play an active role in the successful deployment of the program at their facilities.

“Airport executives anticipate great success with the PreCheck program and recognize that the next challenge will be moving from a largely airline-centric program in operation at a handful of airports to one that is operational for large numbers of travelers at airport facilities across the country,” Barclay added.  “Airport operators are uniquely situated and qualified to play a key role in assisting TSA in efficiently and effectively growing participation in PreCheck or a similar trusted traveler program.”

Barclay noted that over the past decade, AAAE and individual airports have worked closely with TSA and the technology community to implement specific programs, including Registered Traveler (RT).  In roughly one year, the RT program enrolled more than 250,000 travelers at 24 airports, proving the security and efficiency benefits that adoption of these programs provides.

PreCheck in its current form is available only to certain elite travelers on specific airlines and participants in the CBP Global Entry program. Barclay said that airport executives would like to see the program expanded to accommodate as many additional travelers as possible in an airport-centric, community-based effort.  Barclay added that while airline-based programs and Global Entry are good avenues in enrolling qualified participants, additional efforts will be needed to accommodate a broader range of qualified travelers — a goal that airports, the traveling public, and the government share.

Additional views from AAAE were outlined in a letter sent today to TSA Administrator John Pistole and CBP Acting Commissioner David Aguilar, which can be viewed here.

“Airports are confident that in partnership with TSA they can help facilitate the deployment of a robust trusted/known traveler program that focuses on enhanced security above all else in addition to expediting the travel experience,”  Barclay said.  “We are eager to work with Administrator Pistole and his team to make the promises of PreCheck a reality for a broad range of qualified travelers at airports across the country.”


Founded in 1928, AAAE ( is the world’s largest professional organization representing the men and women who work at public-use commercial and general aviation airports. AAAE’s 5,000-plus members represent some 850 airports and hundreds of companies and organizations that support the airport industry. Headquartered in Alexandria, Va., AAAE serves its membership through results-oriented representation in Washington, D.C., and delivers a wide range of industry services and professional development opportunities, including training, conferences, and a highly respected accreditation program.

February 14, 2012 I Written By

I'm Dave and I am a proud Avgeek. It goes way beyond liking airplanes. It is a passion that cannot be subdued.