Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Information on the Chicago Aircraft Inspections

There have been some questions on our blog and elsewhere about the Chicago aircraft inspections.

Also, I've noticed some confusion out there, so please note that this involved a Transportation Security Inspector, (TSI) not a Transportation Security Officer. (TSO)

Here's what we posted on our website.

On August 19 a Transportation Security Inspector (TSI) was conducting a routine compliance inspection on aircraft parked on the airfield at Chicago’s O’Hare Airport (ORD). The TSI inspected nine American Eagle aircraft to look for and test, among other things, access vulnerabilities or areas were someone with ill intent could gain access to the aircraft.

Aircraft operators are required to secure each aircraft when left unattended. The TSIs are encouraged to look for and follow through on vulnerabilities. During the inspection process at ORD the Inspector used a Total Air Temperature (TAT) probe – a probe that protrudes from the side of the aircraft that is used to measure outside air temperature – to pull himself up while investigating possible access vulnerabilities with the unattended aircraft.

The Inspector was following through on regulatory inspection activity. The Inspector was able to gain access to the interior of seven of the nine aircraft inspected, which is an apparent violation of the airline’s security program. TSA is reviewing the inspection results and depending on the conclusion, could take action with the airline, up to and including levying of civil penalties.

While the inspection process is a vital layer of aviation security, it is not TSA’s intent to cause delays or potential damage to aircraft as a result of our inspections. TSA took immediate steps to re-enforce education about sensitive equipment located on the exterior of a plane.

  • TSA has 1,465 Transportation Security Inspectors at almost 150 airports that can cover all modes of transportation.

    • 535 in air cargo (including 85 dedicated canine teams)
    • 755 in aviation
    • 175 in surface transportation modes)
TSIs undergo a 4-week basic training course that consists of security regulations overview, inspection procedures, and safety briefings. TSIs are also trained through a formal on-the-job training program and periodic formal recurrent training. Additionally, Inspectors receive local safety training at each airport when they receive their airport identification.

EoS Blog Team

Covert Testing Results Critical to Security

Recently, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) released a report on TSA’s covert testing program. We’ve written about the report and posted it on our website. Some media and blogs have covered the report and created some misperceptions along the way –headlines like: “TSA Doesn’t Look Into Airport Security Screener Failures don’t help. So we wanted to talk a bit about the covert testing process at TSA.

TSA undergoes covert testing by three entities: The GAO, the DHS Inspector General and TSA’s own Office of Inspection. The recent GAO report focused on TSA’s covert testing procedures. During the course of the year long GAO review, the auditors examined all TSA covert test reports and recommendations, and had access to new policy or Standard Operating Procedure changes derived from the covert test recommendations. Many of the changes are in place today to further enhance the safety and security of the traveling public.

The report validated TSA’s covert testing program and included some recommendations. The recommendation that is causing confusion deals with the way TSA records test failures.

GAO recommended that TSA include a line item in our database for "failures." One would assume “failure” means someone missed an IED, but in fact the failure could be in how a rule is applied, how a technology functions in a specific airport, or how a procedure requires follow-up on an alarm. Because of the vast amount of qualitative information recorded by testers, they write more detailed explanations of failures in a written report instead of a line item in a database. We did, however, concur with the GAO recommendation and have now added a category to the data base on failures in addition to the more detailed reports we’ll continue to do.

The specific misperception we wanted to clear up is what we do with the test results. In some of the blog coverage I’ve seen, including the link mentioned above, some think we don’t do anything with the test results, which is far from the truth. These results are critical to closing security gaps in individual airports and throughout the entire aviation system. As soon as a covert test is completed in an airport, the findings are shared with the TSA leadership there, noting areas for improvement, whether it be in the application of Standard Operating Procedures, use of technology or other areas. The testers also meet with Transportation Security Officers after the testing is completed to show them where mistakes were made and offer suggestions to immediately close any security gap.

After the airport staff is briefed, the testers conduct a briefing to TSA senior staff to show them the failures and recommendations. Information is shared with the Office of Security Operations, which oversees TSA operations at airports nationwide. This gives headquarters an opportunity to look at results at one airport to see if there are implications for the whole aviation network. As needed, Standard Operating Procedures and training could be changed, technology is tweaked, and processes can be changed at the national level based on covert tests.

Bottom line: we take these results – and the results of GAO and the DHS Inspector General - very seriously and TSA constantly uses them to improve security.


EoS Blog Team