U.S. News

U.S. officials try to address air security worries

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Department of Homeland Security said on Friday it is trying to address concerns of pilots about stepped-up screening at U.S. airports and worries in the travel industry that fliers will limit trips because of more rigorous checks.

An employee of the U.S. Transportation Security Administration uses a special LED light to check the authenticity of a passenger's driver's license as he matches names on boarding passes at Washington Reagan National Airport January 4, 2010. REUTERS/Jason Reed

Security officials have defended the measures after foiled plots by al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, which tried to hide bombs in clothing and parcels that made it aboard a U.S. passenger airliner and two cargo planes.

After fierce complaints by pilots about new full-body scanners and more thorough patdowns that began recently, the Transportation Security Administration has started testing other methods for them, a DHS official said.

TSA is examining “alternative security protocols for airline pilots that would expedite screening for this low-risk population while maintaining high security standards,” the DHS official told Reuters.

The new tests come after talks earlier this week between TSA Administrator John Pistole and the head of the Air Line Pilots Association, the largest U.S. pilot union, about how to address the concerns among cockpit crews.

The union has advised its members who are uncomfortable after being patted down to call in sick and not fly.

Pilots have also expressed worries about health risks from the body scanners because they go through them more often than travelers. DHS officials have said they are safe and people are exposed to more radiation naturally than from one scan.

DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano and Pistole met executives from the travel industry, including hotels and online sites, on Friday to talk about concerns the added security is crimping travel and hurting their businesses.

“The meeting with Secretary Napolitano was informative but not entirely reassuring,” said Geoff Freeman, an executive vice president with the U.S. Travel Association. “We understand the challenge DHS confronts but the question is where we draw the line.”

Pistole mentioned several forthcoming reforms for so-called trusted travelers, Freeman said.

“Our country desperately needs a long-term vision for aviation security screening rather than an endless reaction to yesterday’s threat,” he said.

After the meeting, DHS said Napolitano told the executives she was committed to improving security, working with the industry and deploying more security personnel and new technology to address potential risks.

The meeting was “to underscore the department’s continued commitment to partnering with the nation’s travel and tourism industry to facilitate the flow of trade and travel while maintaining high security standards to protect the American people,” DHS said in a statement.

Privacy groups have gone to court to challenge the body scanners as illegal and violations of privacy.

Editing by John O’Callaghan