Federal News Service
HEADLINE: HEARING OF THE SENATE COMMERCE, SCIENCE, AND TRANSPORTATION COMMITTEE
SUBJECT: AVIATION SECURITY
CHAIRED BY: SENATOR JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ)
WITNESSES PANEL I: ASA HUTCHINSON, UNDER SECRETARY, BORDER AND TRANSPORTATION SECURITY, DEPARTMENT OF HOMELAND SECURITY;
THOMAS J. KINTON, JR., DIRECTOR OF AVIATION, MASSACHUSETTS PORT AUTHORITY;
JAMES MAY, CHIEF EXECUTIVE OFFICER, AIR TRANSPORT ASSOCIATION;
PATRICIA FRIEND, INTERNATIONAL PRESIDENT, ASSOCIATION OF FLIGHT ATTENDANTS-CWA
LOCATION: 253 RUSSELL SENATE OFFICE BUILDING, WASHINGTON, D.C.
SEN. GEORGE ALLEN (R-VA): Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I appreciate your commitment to holding these periodic hearings so that we can assess the progress being made as we care about the security and safety in our skies and determine what is being done in the right way.
And also, Secretary Hutchinson, thank you for appearing here and working through and adapting to the different challenges that you all face in the variety of unique airports that we have. Some are personnel issues. Some are configuration or just simple building configurations that make it difficult. Glad to hear your comments insofar as Dulles Airport. Clearly, there's going to be more flights there, such as Dallas, it's Las Vegas, it's Atlanta, Dallas Fort Worth, Chicago, everywhere.
But there are going to be more flights, 300 more flights this summer out of Dulles Airport. I've experienced this long wait. I've seen folks miss flights, including myself because the guy who was going with me was held up for added screening for whatever reason. Regardless, that needs to be addressed.
The other thing that's going to make it more crowded and congested at Dulles Airport is that's the only airport for general aviation. There are right many people that are coming here to the nation's capital or to Northern Virginia, with the many businesses and headquarters in the Northern Virginia area and the DC area, for that matter. So I think it's, number one, important we do everything within practicality and reason to make security first. But, on the other hand, let's also make sure that we don't end up ruining the desire for people to travel by air.
One issue that I've been working on for almost three years now, since it's being shut down, is general aviation at Reagan National Airport. All that general aviation is going into Dulles. So not only you have more commercial flights. You have more general aviation flights.
Many people would much rather come in to Reagan National because they are going to Arlington or Alexandria or to the District of Columbia, here to the nation's capital. And I've been assured multiple times that a plan would be devised, a plan would be made available to determine under what circumstances Reagan National would be reopened to general aviation. And it is an important issue for jobs, for the economy, particularly in Northern Virginia and in the district.
We had a hearing and it was a-and I don't want to breach any confidences-but we had a hearing and the TSA gave us the assurance about once again, they're going to permit general aviation flights. But it was not concrete. It had to be vetted. It had to go through different stages of approval and so forth. So the current policy, which is no general aviation into Reagan National, has been in place for almost three years now. Can you give me and members of this committee a specific answer as to where this is in the decision making process? Is there a plan? Are there specific ideas as to how this will be done and when will a decision be made?
Because, in my view, it ought to be devised by the end of this year. By the end of this year, we ought to have a plan in place that would allow general aviation, under specific and different security requirements for Reagan National than you would have at Dulles or any other general aviation facility or airport. But by the end of this year, we ought to have one. And I'd like to hear from you where we are in getting general aviation under constraints back to Reagan National.
MR. HUTCHINSON: Senator, first of all, TSA did fulfill its commitment and prepared a very thorough plan in which, if it was authorized for general aviation to return to Reagan, that security measures would be in place. That plan is on my desk and that's not a matter of inaction.
That's a matter of trying to make the right decision and as you pointed out, if we were going to reinvigorate general aviation at Reagan National, you would have to have special security plans for that particular airport.
It would have to include the involvement of TSA screeners and as one of the issues of this hearing, whenever we're going through the summer months, with all the screener workforce really strapped, I don't know that we can take part of the screening workforce and put them on the screening of general aviation flights into Reagan. So that's one issue that's of concern to us.
Obviously, we want to get the protocols in place and make sure they're operational. For the Kentucky governor's flight that came in and the problems that resulted from that, I know that, if you phased in the general aviation at Reagan and if you started the charter aircraft, you've got highly qualified pilots. So you have training protocols in place. So I think it's a matter of the current threat environment. It's a matter of the screening workforce. And so I would not expect any change to be made or approval of that plan to be made in the coming months and I think it will continue to be evaluated and we'll continue to look at the security measures and the threat context.
SEN. ALLEN: Well, I would-if I may, Mr. Chairman-as far as the security protocol, that needs to be figured out and so far as the number of screeners, if there are not sufficient screeners, I would just hire more screeners for that. I can understand the security protocols and that's important to get those in place. But to have as a reason, well, you can't deploy or redeploy, I would just hire more screeners or charge them to those who want to use, make if a user fee.
MR. HUTCHINSON: What I meant by that was that we have a 45,000 cap that we're up against.
SEN. ALLEN: Right.
MR. HUTCHINSON: So we either press the existing workforce for new responsibilities, which could be of a concern. That's really the only option because we're at the cap right now.
SEN. ALLEN: Well, you certainly have this senator's support, if you maxed out and you needed an extra 10 or whatever the number might be at Reagan National, you have at least one senator and I think more than one, the majority of senators who would support that if you actually did need to increase the cap by that few number for Reagan.
MR. HUTCHINSON: Thank you, Senator.
SEN. ALLEN: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Thank you, Mr. Secretary.