New hire training for West Coast TSA officers

Thursday, April 8, 2021
LAS pilot program photo

TSA new hire training is moving back into the physical classroom.

The agency successfully launched a new officer training program for new hires at McCarran International Airport (LAS) in Las Vegas. As one of the first in-person/in-residence training classes offered since the pandemic hit the U.S. in March 2020, transitioning back to in-person training required out-of-the box thinking.

Adept at workarounds, TSA’s Training and Development (T&D) held 111 virtual basic training programs in 2020, successfully graduating 2,267 new TSA officers in the COVID-19 pandemic era. The pandemic is expected to be tamed by year’s end; however, CDC guidelines for in-person training still must be followed, making training for the current officer hiring surge challenging.

TSA plans to hire over 6,000 new screening officers by this summer.

To safely meet the increased training needs and reduce the demand for training space at local airports, T&D is conducting temporary in-person training at select airports. Drawing students from two West Coast regions, the first TSA Academy West pilot class graduated 32 officers from LAS, Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) and San Diego International Airport (SAN).

AA Hutchinson photo
Training and Development Assistant Administrator Kimberly Hutchinson addresses the graduates. (Photo by Alexa Lopez)
Two TSOs photo
From left, LAX TSO Billy Wakeland and SAN TSO Tyler Allen. (Photo by Alexa Lopez)

The Las Vegas pilot program advances the concept of a western-based TSA academy. Prior to 2020, in-person officer training took place at TSA’s premier East Coast training site – the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center (FLETC) in Glynco, Georgia.

A permanent academy on the west side of the country, serving as a “sister” site to the TSA Academy at FLETC, has been discussed since 2019 and awaits funding. When fully funded, Academy West could deliver basic training to 3,600 new officers per year, saving the agency money and reducing travel time for students.

“I think it is really cool that [TSA] was able to bring the Academy to the West Coast, especially the way travel issues are right now,” said graduate Billy Wakeland from LAX. “They made it a lot easier for us to get the training we need to go out and do our job effectively.”

“You’ve helped us expand the limits of what the TSA Academy can be,” T&D Assistant Administrator Kimberly Hutchinson told the graduates who participated in this particular training session.

In her keynote address to the graduates at the celebration marking the milestone, Hutchinson also encouraged the new hires to reach out to their new TSA network. “You never know whose expertise will be useful one day,” said Hutchinson. “In my experience, it’s often the people you don’t anticipate. And you might be that person with the right experience, so be there for your friends and coworkers when they need you as well.”

Reflecting on his training, honor graduate Tyler Allen from SAN said X-ray was the most challenging skill to learn but also the most rewarding.

“When you start out, it looks like a toddler drew with a crayon on the computer screen,” said Allen. “Then you start to recognize the images and are able to decipher them. It’s the most rewarding because that’s where you’re going to find a lot of the threats and stop them from getting on the plane.”

Learn more about what it takes to become a TSA officer and consider joining our team at