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Public Statements

Rehberg: Transportation Security Administration is Wrong on EAS Screening

Letter

By:
Date:
Location: Washington, DC


Rehberg: Transportation Security Administration is Wrong on EAS Screening

Montana's Congressman, Denny Rehberg, today asked Kip Hawley, Administrator of the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), to provide TSA security personnel at each of Montana's seven Essential Air Service (EAS) airports.

"Montana's EAS airports need the necessary security resources to protect their passengers and employees while making travel as hassle free as possible," said Rehberg, a member of the House Appropriations Committee. "To accomplish this, federal support is essential. There are a lot of unanswered questions as to why TSA won't provide federal security at Montana's airports and it's time we demanded some answers."

A lack of TSA screening can cause a major travel hassle for those individuals wanting to fly from one of the EAS cities and catch a connecting flight in Billings to their ultimate destination. Currently, passengers must personally take all of their luggage onto a bus, get transported to the front of the terminal, check into their next flight, and then go through the security checkpoint after deboarding from their initial flight into Billings.

During a recent Montana Essential Air Service Task Force meeting, TSA officials cited the cost of federalizing Montana's airports as "exorbitant" despite the fact that earlier this year TSA made the decision to federalize Yellend Field in Ely, Nevada, an EAS airport with similar boarding numbers to Montana's ports.

"Montana's seven EAS airports have operated on the implication from your agency that TSA was open to federalization," said Rehberg in the letter. "This understanding has led to numerous actions on the part of the seven airports to meet TSA's requirements for federalization. TSA officials in Montana were fully aware of these actions that in most cases resulted in an expenditure of already limited funds by each of the airports. After six years, federalization has yet to occur. The lack of screening represents an unacceptable security risk."

Rehberg also plans to meeting with TSA officials, in his Washington office, Thursday, April 10.

Letter:

Administrator Kip Hawley

Office of the Administrator

TSA-1

Transportation Security Administration

601 South 12th Street

Arlington, VA 22202-4220

Dear Administrator Hawley:

I write to you today seeking support from the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) regarding federalization of Montana's seven Essential Air Service (EAS) airports. It is my understanding that each of Montana's EAS airports has approached TSA asking to become federalized. Such a move by TSA would both help to close a security loophole and remove an impediment to efficient air service to the affected communities.

Montana's seven EAS airports have operated on the implication from your agency that TSA was open to federalization. This understanding has led to numerous actions on the part of the seven airports to meet TSA's requirements for federalization. TSA officials in Montana were fully aware of these actions that in most cases resulted in an expenditure of already limited funds by each of the airports. After six years, federalization has yet to occur. The lack of screening represents an unacceptable security risk.

While I fully appreciate the desire of your agency to focus on saving money as indicated by Mr. Rich Stevens of your agency at a recent Montana Essential Air Service Task Force meeting, I am concerned that this policy is not being applied consistently around the country. While Mr. Stevens referred to the cost of providing screening at Montana's EAS airports as "exorbitant", I have to question how TSA made the decision to federalize Yellend Field in Ely, Nevada, an EAS airport with similar boarding numbers to Montana's ports, earlier this year.

Additionally, the lack of TSA screening can cause a major travel hassle for those individuals wanting to fly from one of the EAS cities and catch a connecting flight in Billings to their ultimate destination. Currently, the unscreened airline passengers, after deboarding from their initial flight in Billings, must personally take all of their luggage onto a bus, get transported to the front of the terminal, check into their next flight, and then go through the security checkpoint. In addition to being an unnecessary hassle, the uncertainty of knowing how long this process will take leads many people to make the decision to drive the four or five hours to Billings the night before rather than risk missing their connecting flight, thus driving down passenger numbers on the EAS flights.

One location, Sidney, MT, has seen its passenger numbers drop from over 6,000 boardings per year eight years ago, to fewer than 4,000 per year today. This drop occurs despite an oil and natural gas boom in the surrounding area.

EAS is a vital link to many of Montana's rural areas. With the current, unfortunate, disruption of air service to these locations TSA has a window of opportunity to streamline operations with Great Lakes Aviation and provide screening services as soon as flights resume. Ultimately, regardless of how TSA decides to proceed, that decision must be made soon so that the Montana airports and communities can begin to plan for the future.

Sincerely,

Denny Rehberg
Member of Congress


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