Airlines await Secure Flight

No group is anticipating the release of the government’s final plan to take over the screening of air travelers against terrorist watch lists — a process that frequently causes public outrage — more than the airline industry, which currently handles the function.

The Air Transport Association of America, an airline lobbying group, said that as of 2007, airlines had spent an estimated $44 million to maintain, develop and operate screening systems.

The Transportation Security Administration will take over the process when it implements Secure Flight. However, to accommodate the program, airlines might need to revamp their information systems, and industry executives say they are anxious about how much the program will cost.

Still, John Meenan, ATA’s executive vice president and chief operating officer, told a congressional subcommittee Sept. 9 that the airlines support the government’s Secure Flight program. Their primary concern is that the system should be fully vetted before implementation to ensure that it improves passenger pre-screening.

For more than five years, airlines have been waiting to hand over those responsibilities to TSA, as required by a 2004 law. However, a first version of the Secure Flight program was grounded in 2006 after criticism that it violated privacy laws. A previous effort was also scrapped after privacy groups and civil libertarians criticized it.

TSA Administrator Kip Hawley said last week those problems had been corrected and the agency is planning for the release of the government’s final plan for the takeover in November. Airlines are expected to start using Secure Flight in January.

About the Author

Ben Bain is a reporter for Federal Computer Week.

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