Homeland Security

TSA preps tech to track Cuba charter flights

By Novikov Aleksey shutterstock image 1080517712 

The Transportation Security Administration is developing a data tool that draws from a variety of federal and commercial data sources to better track flights from Cuba bound for the U.S..

A Government Accountability Office report issued July 12 said TSA was having difficulty tracking charter flights to the U.S. from Cuba due to leasing and flight-sharing arrangements among airlines. Charter and shared-aircraft flights have sometimes complex leasing arrangements, said GAO,  that can make determining their exact flight schedules -- and subsequent security inspections -- difficult.

Chartered flights are a big part of the air traffic to and from the island nation, alongside commercial airline flights. The Trump administration tightened rules on charter flights to Cuba last June. Travelers to Cuba now have to travel as part of a registered group, using chartered aircraft and commercial airlines. The GAO said chartered flights accounted for the majority of flights between U.S. and Cuba in fiscal years 2012 through 2016.

In its response to GAO's report, TSA said it is developing a new data-driven tool that taps a number of federal and commercial aviation systems to better frame flight schedules and make inspections easier.

TSA's Office of Global Strategies' tool will work to fix a "Last Point of Departure" for chartered flights, which establishes a more reliable schedule. The tool, the agency told the GAO, will analyze aggregate flight data or identify LDP service to the U.S. from international locations.

The tool will examine LPD information and flag flights with unvalidated data. Reports from those flagged flights will be sent out for manual review by TSA personnel. TSA began developing the tool in 2017. It pulls data from multiple government sources, as well as from the Official Airline Guide, and airport and airline websites, to identify unknown LPD flights.

The Official Airline Guide is a U.K.-owned company known in the commercial airline industry for its airline schedules database. The company claims the database holds historical and future flight data for almost 1,000 airlines and 4,000 airports.

TSA said it is also working to determine how to more efficiently integrate public charter operations into the tool, to facilitate real-time updates and validation of flight data.

About the Author

Mark Rockwell is a senior staff writer at FCW, whose beat focuses on acquisition, the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Energy.

Before joining FCW, Rockwell was Washington correspondent for Government Security News, where he covered all aspects of homeland security from IT to detection dogs and border security. Over the last 25 years in Washington as a reporter, editor and correspondent, he has covered an increasingly wide array of high-tech issues for publications like Communications Week, Internet Week, Fiber Optics News, tele.com magazine and Wireless Week.

Rockwell received a Jesse H. Neal Award for his work covering telecommunications issues, and is a graduate of James Madison University.

Click here for previous articles by Rockwell. Contact him at mrockwell@fcw.com or follow him on Twitter at @MRockwell4.


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