After complaints, TSA streamlines screening of pilots |

After complaints, TSA streamlines screening of pilots

Tom Fontaine

The success of a test program at Pittsburgh International Airport will allow U.S. airline pilots to pass through security checkpoints without undergoing mandatory physical screening, the Transportation Security Administration said Friday.

“We thought all along that it was silly to put us through all the (physical) screening at checkpoints,” said Capt. James Ray of the US Airline Pilots Association, which represents US Airways pilots.

“A few hundred yards down the terminal we’re strapping into a plane that could weigh 205,000 pounds, carry 7,500 gallons of fuel and go 600 mph. If we had any ill intentions, we sure wouldn’t have to smuggle anything in,” Ray said.

Pilots undergo thorough background checks and mental health evaluations, he said.

The TSA agrees.

The agency said it will streamline screening of pilots, who opposed being forced to pass through full-body scanners that emit low levels of radiation or, as an alternative, undergo pat-down searches some travelers are contesting.

Opposition mounted among pilot groups and passengers in recent weeks, after TSA screeners began using palms and fingers to probe for banned items instead of the backs of their hands to brush past sensitive body parts.

The pilots association this month instructed members to refuse body-scanner screening, out of concern that frequent exposure to the machines would subject them to health risks. TSA says the machines are safe. The union advised pilots to request a private pat-down and ask for a witness to be present.

Other pilot unions made similar complaints and recommendations.

The backlash prompted the TSA to roll out a program nationally that was tested at three U.S. airports — Pittsburgh International, since July 2008, and Baltimore/Washington International Airport and Columbia Metropolitan Airport in South Carolina.

The program, called crewPASS, allows pilots traveling in uniform on official business to enter secure checkpoint areas in different locations from passengers by presenting airline identification and another ID to TSA officers. They are allowed through after their names clear various databases. Pilots could be subject to random screening beyond the checkpoint.

Pilots will begin bypassing body scanners and pat-downs immediately, the TSA said.

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