When you’re talking about the weather, Alaska and Florida are on the extreme opposite ends of the climate spectrum. But when it comes to aviation security, the two states have something in common.
Alaska and Florida are the proud homes of the 2022 TSA Airports of the Year.
Team Alaska, anchored by Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport, earned CAT X-I (the largest) Airport of the Year, while Florida’s St. Pete–Clearwater International Airport was named the CAT II-IV (mid-size to smaller) Airport of the Year at the 2022 TSA Honorary Awards Ceremony.
TSA Alaska/Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport
Ted Stevens Anchorage International is the hub of 19 airports spread across 624,000 square miles of rough, icy terrain in Alaska, a state known for one of TSA’s hardest-to-hire locations in the U.S.
“The challenges and obstacles of meeting the transportation security requirements in Alaska are actually the key ingredients that make our team so successful,” said TSA Alaska Assistant Federal Security Director (AFSD)-Mission Support Dan Palmer. “We have developed a team culture over time that is rooted in drive and determination to succeed where others would likely fail. We do not view operations in Alaska as being too hard but as an opportunity to prove our abilities to work as a team and achieve success.”
With 82% of Alaska inaccessible by roads, TSA Alaska Deputy Federal Security Director (DFSD) Mike Kombé said when people need medical care, students attend sporting events or when many Alaskans need food and goods, they often have no choice but to fly.
“Aviation is truly a lifeline in Alaska, and the men and women who comprise Team Alaska understand and embrace this truth,” Kombé noted. “No matter the challenge or obstacle, they stay squarely focused on TSA’s mission. I am incredibly proud of Team Alaska and its 618 outstanding professionals.”
Alaska Federal Security Director (FSD) Pete Duffy said being selected as the 2022 TSA Airport of the Year reflects the exceptional work his team has accomplished.
“Every airport hub and spoke across the country puts in 110% every day; otherwise, we would not achieve the success we have experienced over the past 20-plus years, which makes Team Alaska’s selection an honor,” said Duffy.
TSA Alaska attracted 120 transfers in fiscal year 2022 with innovative staffing efforts, which included a relocation incentive program. Duffy said retention incentives to keep officers in the state are also critical.
“In addition to extremely high costs for goods and services, Team Alaska’s employees, particularly in remote Alaska, sacrifice much to ensure TSA operations are successful,” he said. “We have seasonal industries – fishing and tourism – that require a transient workforce. Alaska is also home to the largest military population per capita, meaning thousands of military members and their families are transiting in and out of the state every year. We proudly employ many military spouses and dependents, but we understand they will leave us when the active duty member changes assignments.”
Duffy said TSA Alaska makes a point to leverage technology, like the TSANews employee app, to close the huge distance between the state’s airports.
“When the app was made available, we immediately began leveraging it as a way to stay connected,” said Duffy. “The app is an exceptional platform to improve connectedness throughout our vast state.”
“The miles may separate us, but the technology connects us,” added Duffy. “The Team Alaska leadership team is always available to our people, whether by cell, email, text or other means – we are here.”
St. Pete–Clearwater International Airport
TSA officers at St. Pete–Clearwater International Airport (PIE) screened a record 1,254,414 passengers and processed over 3.4 million bags in fiscal year 2022. Those are among the highest numbers of any CAT II airport in the country.
“The uptick in passenger volume led to unexpected operational challenges,” said DFSD Jesus Serrano, “which TSA PIE was able to overcome in large part due to our dedicated employees and creative staffing solutions.”
PIE TSA Manager Edward “Charlie” Galloway said unscheduled absences were nearly half the average of CAT II airports across the U.S. His team also put key strategies in place to maintain high standards of security effectiveness.
“Airline flight schedules were reviewed and passenger (volume) models built to better anticipate PIE’s staffing needs,” said Galloway. “We developed tools to predict with 95-plus% accuracy daily passenger (numbers) months in advance, allowing better midterm operational planning.”
With St. Pete-Clearwater being a major tourist destination, Serrano’s team takes a two-pronged approach to security operations.
“First, committing to our people by ensuring a highly engaged and knowledgeable workforce that is prepared to meet the challenges we face is paramount,” Serrano explained. “Secondly, knowing our clientele and understanding the dynamics of airlines’ business models at the airport helps us prepare for the high volumes of passengers we are accustomed to seeing.”
Serrano is extremely proud of Team PIE’s achievement in earning the TSA CAT II-IV Airport of the Year.
“This is an amazing award that recognizes unity of effort by the workforce at PIE, supported by the functional programs of Mission Support, Compliance and Law Enforcement/Federal Air Marshal Service, highlighting their hard work and dedication to the mission,” he emphasized.
PIE was one of only nine CAT II airports in the country with no standard passenger lane wait times of 20 minutes or more at the checkpoint in FY22.
“We are absolutely thrilled to have provided passengers departing from PIE with the most effective security possible coupled with exceptionally low wait times,” said AFSD-Generalist Joseph Sebastian.
FSD Kirk Skinner described TSA PIE as “laser-focused on the mission.”
“They identify with TSA’s mission and understand it’s our number one priority,” Skinner said.
During a celebration of TSA PIE’s Airport of the Year accomplishment, Airport Director Tom Jewsbury talked about the collaborative partnership between TSA and the airport authority, leading to the airport’s success.
“St. Pete-Clearwater International Airport consistently receives high praises from our passengers on the kindness and politeness of our TSA officers,” said Jewsbury. “We continue to enjoy a great partnership with our local TSA and are proud of their accomplishment and recognition as the 2022 Airport of Year.”
“What a wonderful surprise to have everyone come together to celebrate,” said TSA Officer Paul White.
Fellow Officer Beverly Hall added, “This is really meaningful.”
The team shared pizza, a delicious cake and refreshments, and Serrano summed it up by asking the question, “Who says you can’t have your PIE and eat it, too?”
By Don Wagner, TSA Strategic Communications & Public Affairs