) -- As airlines, airports and the Transportation Security Administration ramp up for one of the year's busiest travel periods -- and with attention focused on controversial new pat-down procedures -- the director of Charlotte Douglas International Airport says he could provide airport security more efficiently than the TSA can.
Aviation Director Jerry Orr said the federal government should focus on "looking for potential perpetrators" rather than inspecting everybody, sometimes intrusively. People must realize that "No matter you much you spend, you cannot 100% guarantee security," so it is worth considering that at some level security may be too intrusive, or too slow, or too expensive to provide, he said.
On the cost side, Orr noted, the number of workers employed by the TSA in Charlotte has tripled from around 150 non-TSA security workers at the time of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, yet security is no better.
Jerry Orr, director of Charlotte Douglas International Airport
In the end, ultimate responsibility for security may fall on airline passengers, just as it did on
Flight 93 on Sept. 11 and on subsequent flights involving the "shoe bomber," apprehended by passengers and crew members on a transatlantic flight on Dec. 22, 2001, and the "underwear bomber," apprehended by passengers and crew members at the conclusion of a transatlantic flight on Dec. 25, 2009.
While terrorists seem to prefer holiday season transatlantic flights, Orr noted that the TSA must vary its routines. "True security is me knowing what I'm doing and you not knowing," he said.
Orr is respected in aviation as the longtime director of Charlotte/Douglas, the country's 11th busiest airport in terms of 2009 passenger totals and the largest and most profitable hub for
. He is frequently cited as one of the country's leading airline executives, partially because Charlotte/Douglas is among the lowest-cost airports for airlines and partly due to its efficient operation, enabled by relationships between its three principal players: US Airways, TSA and Orr himself.
Orr objects to multiple facets of the TSA operation. Cost is a primary one. Another is that the TSA "is always addressing yesterday's threat." If a terrorist blew up an airplane with explosives hidden in an earphone, "then every time somebody came through with earphones, we would inspect them," Orr said.
Orr also questions the policy, now being altered, to push
airline crews through security. "If a pilot is willing to go down with an airplane, how can you stop him?" Orr asked. Early in the decade, a private firm provided an iris-recognition technology system for some airport workers at Charlotte/Douglas. Orr said the system worked, but the TSA apparently did not display sufficient interest to retain the involvement of
, the system's private developer.
Charlotte/Douglas already oversees a security force with about three dozen officers. Orr said that federal intelligence agencies could share information on potential terrorists with airport security forces, just as federal agencies share information with local agencies law enforcement agencies today.
Orr would not care how the operation of an expanded security force was funded, as long as it was the same for all airports. While he reminded that private screening in place on Sept. 11 did not fail -- since the box cutters used by the terrorists were not prohibited by federal regulations -- he said airlines should not oversee security going forward because that is not their business.
TSA spokesman Jon Allen noted that individual airports have the ability to opt out of use of the TSA under a screening partnership program currently used by 16 airports, although TSA continues to set security standards, including the use of enhanced pat downs and imaging technology if available.
Among the opt-outs is San Francisco International Airport, which is similar in size to Charlotte and uses private firms to staff checkpoints, due to scheduling and cost issues rather than to any particular conflict with TSA policies.
Orr said he is considering whether Charlotte/Douglas ought to opt out as well. In fact, he said, "I think about it all the time."
-- Written by Ted Reed in Charlotte, N.C.
>To contact the writer of this article, click here:
Ted Reed .a