Unions, GA, Privacy Groups Welcome TSA Bill

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John M. Doyle john_doyle@aviationweek.com

Flight attendants, general aviation groups and privacy advocates are hailing a Transportation Security Administration (TSA) authorization bill passed by the U.S. House of Representatives last week.

The bill (H.R. 2200) would give TSA authority to spend $15.7 billion over fiscal years 2010-2011. However, actually providing the funds is up to appropriations committees in the House and Senate. The measure has no counterpart bill in the Senate yet, so it is expected to be incorporated in the Department of Homeland Security authorization bill for Fiscal 2010.

One of the TSA bill's provisions, requiring the government to provide airline cabin crews with five hours of self-defense and security training every two years, is being warmly received by the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA and the AFL-CIO's Transportation Trades Department. Self defense training for cabin crews is currently voluntary.

"Over the past seven years, the federal government has focused on cockpit security but little has been done to protect flight attendants," says Patricia Friend, the union's international president. The TSA bill also authorizes a study of wireless communications devices for flight attendants to discreetly communicate with the cockpit in security emergencies.

Another provision would authorize $10 million for a new grant program to enhance perimeter, airfield and terminal security at general aviation facilities. GA interests were also pleased by passage of an amendment, introduced by Rep. John Mica (R-Fla.) that tightens standards for when TSA can issue an emergency regulation or security directive. Left unchecked, some groups said, the TSA was doing an end run around the normal rulemaking process. The General Aviation Manufacturers Association said the amendment "brings a common sense approach" to TSA's use of security directives." The Alliance for Aviation Across America also applauded the measure.

A controversial amendment included in the bill would restrict the TSA's use of whole-body imaging as the first line of defense at airport security checkpoints. The measure, introduced by Reps. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) and Carol Shea-Porter (D-N.H.), calls for the TSA to use the revealing body imagery only as a secondary form of screening - after first offering passengers the option of a physical pat-down. The measure passed 310-118. Privacy and civil rights groups had lobbied for the amendment.

Photo credit: Chicago Dept. of Aviation

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