Air Crew Screening – Reliability 0% (actually increases probability of successful attack)
Air crew screening begins well in advance of arriving at an airport and takes many forms. Before a commercial airline pilot is authorized to fly an airliner, he or she typically spends an average of ten years honing his or her skills, obtaining various licenses and gaining flight experience. Many pilots are weeded out along the way, either by the “self-selecting” nature of the profession, or by a remediation process with almost zero tolerance for any lack of skill, judgment or adverse personal conduct. Many pilots, too, have been eliminated simply by economic conditions within the airline industry.
Before being hired by a major airline, a pilot has an average of 5000 hours in the air. The pilot is also subjected to multiple criminal, fingerprint and immigration background checks, medical and psychological examinations by the airline and designated FAA doctors, drug and alcohol screening, years of formal observation in flight simulators and actual aircraft both by airline “check airmen” and FAA Examiners, and of informal observation by other pilots through the “two-person cockpit.”
Statistically, there are few professions in the world that require such professional skill and judgment or are subject to such ongoing scrutiny; and there is no profession that has a lower rate of any type of adverse incidents than those experienced by professional pilots.
Despite these facts, airline pilots are screened along with passengers at airport security checkpoints to make sure they are not carrying weapons they might use to take over an airliner – five minutes before they are given control of an airliner. While it should be obvious, a weapon is superfluous to a pilot who already has control of a commercial airliner, critical resources are wasted screening professional crews. After being screened for weapons, airline pilots arrive at their cockpits, where a crash axe hangs on the wall.
The Transportation Security Administration argues imposters might forge airline I.D.’s, so a pilot’s credentials cannot be relied upon to prove a pilot is bonafide. Yet, TSA routinely allows federal law enforcement officers to bypass screening carrying weapons on the strength of their I.D.’s. It is difficult to understand why a federal I.D. card cannot be forged, but an airline I.D. can.
This double standard is applied even though it is virtually impossible to impersonate a flight’s pilot, under any circumstances, because the pilot’s picture and name are compared to that on the flight’s paperwork, which originates at the airline’s dispatching center, prior to flight. An imposter pilot would also be completely unfamiliar with a given airline’s checklist and preflight set-up procedures, terminology and operations – a fact that would be immediately and blatantly obvious to operations and ramp agents, flight attendants and fellow pilots.
In contrast to the screening inspections required of airline pilots arriving at work, most airport ground employees routinely bypass screening through airport employee entrances, solely on the strength of their own background checks. Many of these employees hold low wage, entry level positions, yet they move in and out of secure airport areas many times a day, carrying backpacks, suitcases, and other personal items.
APSA believes resources presently used to inspect flight crews at airports would be better spent developing robust ways to verify their identities through FAA/TSA databases, so they could transit security efficiently, reducing wait times for other passengers and allowing screeners to concentrate on more legitimate threats to security.
Since, it is virtually impossible to impersonate an airline pilot, either by joining the profession and successfully passing the skills and background tests for years, or by falsifying an airline I.D. to gain access to an airliner, air crew screening for weapons has a negligible effect on airline security, other than in diverting resources from other areas.
The requirement to screen flight crews at airport checkpoints will not reduce the odds of a successful terror attack at all, since flight crews are already not permitted cockpit access without numerous security checks. In fact, it will actually increase the chances an attack will succeed by guaranteeing our pilots are absolutely defenseless against terrorists who have a 95% chance of getting weapons onboard airliners. Resources would be far better used elsewhere.
Mandate the already-deployed Crew Access Security System (an electronic I.D. verification system) be used at all concourses to allow flight crew and federal law enforcement officers to bypass security screening. This simple change would increase screening efficiency by more than 10%, allowing screeners to focus on true security threats.