The line of communication between TSA and one of its top aviation partners was on full display during the American Association of Airport Executives (AAAE) 20th annual Aviation Security Summit this week.
A one-on-one interview between Administrator David Pekoske and AAAE President/CEO Todd Hauptli highlighted the summit.
“When we’ve got an issue, you’re always available,” Hauptli told Pekoske. “We don’t always agree on every issue, but we have a great line of communication and appreciate everything you’ve done.”
As expected during these challenging times, many of Hauptli’s questions centered on how TSA and the aviation industry are responding to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Despite the significant drop in airline passengers, Pekoske said TSA decided early to bring in more screening officers than the agency typically would to open more lanes and allow officers and the traveling public to safely distance.
“We have always partnered very closely with the airports in making sure people know they should maintain social distancing,” said Pekoske. “We also tried to make the screening experience much more contactless between passengers and TSA officers.”
The Administrator cited TSA’s requirement for officers to wear masks and in many cases wear face shields as well as change their gloves more often. The agency is also partnering with airports to deep clean the screening checkpoints and bins on a regular basis. Pekoske said what’s less apparent to travelers is some of the new technology TSA put into place this year.
“This new technology wasn’t designed just for COVID-19,” Pekoske noted. “These are things we’ve been thinking about for two, three, four years. Every element of our screening process has a new technology solution in the pipeline. The first one is identity verification. We have new technology called Credential Authentication Technology (CAT). A passenger inserts his or her driver’s license [into the CAT machine] and then takes it out once the machine returns the credential. Our goal is to make that identity verification process pretty much self-serve for passengers and very contactless.”
Pekoske also highlighted TSA’s new computed tomography X-ray systems, which allow passengers to keep their liquids, aerosols and gels and laptops or iPads in their carry-on bags.
“That means as a passenger, less of my stuff is coming out of my bag and going into a bin,” said the Administrator. “That’s safer from a public health perspective.”
Third, Pekoske spotlighted upgrades to TSA’s Advanced Imaging Technology, which looks for possible threats on passengers’ bodies. He said, “What that means is fewer pat-downs for passengers.”
When Hauptli asked about the future of making appointments or reservations to go through screening, the Administrator replied, “I think it could work. We’re testing it out with Denver International Airport. This is an interesting alternative, and we’ll see how the prototype works out.”
Pekoske said it’s important for TSA to show people that the agency is trying to find new ways to process passengers while keeping everyone as safe as possible.
“All of your airport executives, certainly all of the carrier executives, think it’s important that we focus on the passenger experience,” said Pekoske. “I think you can have security and passenger convenience at the same time.”
A big deadline that’s fast approaching is REAL ID. Beginning October 1, 2021, every air traveler 18 years of age and older will need a REAL ID-compliant driver’s license, state-issued enhanced driver’s license or other acceptable form of ID. That deadline was already pushed back a year because of COVID-19, and Hauptli asked if we might need another delay.
“Whether that deadline moves or not, that’s a department decision,” Pekoske responded. “A judgment will need to be made at some point. If we’re not at 75% [compliance], what do we do in terms of REAL ID enforcement? All that communication process is going to really ramp up, I think, in March or April.”
Toward the end of the 35-minute interview, Hauptli told the Administrator, “It really is meaningful that you are committed to partnership and collaboration. We appreciate our government partners, and on a personal level, I very much appreciate the chance to work closely with you.”
“I think we have a wonderful personal relationship,” Pekoske said. “Like you said, we don’t always agree on everything, but we have very good dialogue and know each other’s perspective, which is hugely valuable.” “We went into the pandemic with good relationships. Those relationships help all of us, help airports, help TSA, help passengers and help carriers,” Pekoske added. ”I don’t view [transportation] security as just a TSA issue; security is a collective issue. It also includes passengers, airports, carriers, service providers, you name it, and I appreciate that.”