Aspen airport sticks with TSA security |

Aspen airport sticks with TSA security

Janet Urquhart
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado
Janet Urquhart The Aspen Times

ASPEN – The Aspen-Pitkin County Airport will stick with security provided by the federal Transportation Security Administration for two reasons: It wants to, and it doesn’t have any choice.

TSA chief John Pistole recently pulled the plug on the ability of airports to opt out of security operations provided by the TSA in favor of private contractors to handle the duties, but local airport officials say they’re satisfied with the TSA’s work anyway.

The Aspen airport will, however, see a new TSA transportation security manager. Airport officials say they were told this week that the former manager, Earl Young, no longer holds the post, but no explanation was offered.

The TSA confirmed Wednesday that a new manager will be named, but offered no further details about the change in personnel.

Unrelated to the selection of a new local TSA manager, airport administrators had considered whether to switch from the federal security program to one handled by a private contractor, but the discussion was rendered moot by Pistole’s announcement in late January that the TSA will no longer consider applications for the use of private screeners.

“For us, for the time being … our options really don’t exist,” airport director Jim Elwood told county commissioners Wednesday. “The good news out of that is, our TSA staff has always received really good marks in our customer surveys here locally.”

Consideration of private screeners was prompted by a letter from U.S. Rep. John Mica, a Florida Republican and member of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure. The letter, sent to every commercial-service airport in the country, urged airports to consider private contractors rather than TSA security staffers.

At present, there are 16 airports in the country that contract with private screeners, but the private contractors were chosen by the TSA and are overseen by TSA supervisors, according to David Ulane, assistant aviation director at the Aspen airport.

Most airports that were considering opting out of the TSA-staffed security operation were either interested in exerting more influence over the customer service approach employed by screeners or were having security staffing difficulties, Ulane said in a memo to county commissioners.

In some cases, the TSA’s recent move toward more aggressive pat-downs of travelers may have spurred interest in opting for private contractors to handle security, but having a private security force would not change screening policies, according to Ulane.

At any rate, staffing and customer service have not been issues at the local airport. Rather, Ulane said, the TSA staff has received high marks in customer surveys. Security personnel have become accustomed to the significant customer service expectations of travelers at the Aspen airport and some screeners recognize frequent flyers by name, he said.

In addition, the TSA is able to boost its staff during Aspen’s busy winter and summer seasons and reduce its staffing levels during the offseasons, according to Ulane. There are currently about 20 transportation security officers working at the local airport, the TSA said. They are not county employees, but are employed by the federal government.

Security at the Aspen airport continues to involve a walk-through metal detector for passengers. Pat-downs are conducted when security personnel can’t determine what triggers the metal detector to sound an alarm.

Ulane said he expects the TSA will upgrade the airport’s screening equipment with an AIT (advanced imaging technology) machine, also known as a full-body scanner, within the next 18 months.

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