TSA Lukewarm to Registered Traveler

Transportation Security Administrator Kip Hawley believes the Registered Traveler (RT) program is low priority because it doesn't do enough to protect against terrorism in the air.

In testimony before the transportation security subcommittee of the House Committee on Homeland Security, Hawley said TSA is sponsoring the program, but does not consider it a "security program" as his agency sets its priorities on providing security to the air traveler. Members of the panel and private sector proponents are upset that TSA is not doing much to promote the program.

Aimed at business travelers, the RT program is designed to reduce unusually long security lines at the nation's busiest airports. RT is an entirely voluntary program for airports and passengers Passengers pay an annual fee and undergo an extensive background check by the Transportation Security Administration (TSA). Unique biometric information (usually fingerprint and iris data) is encoded onto a high-tech card.

At the airport, passengers enter a specially designated security lane. At a kiosk, the biometric card is inserted into a reader. A passenger is prompted to place finger on the fingerprint reader or look into the iris reader, and biometrics are checked against the card. Attendants assist passengers with laptop computers and other items that must be X-rayed. Cardholders won't have to remove their shoes.

Essentially, vendors selling the program charge travelers about $100 a year for a faster-paced, hassle-reduced trip through airport security.

A 'trusted traveler' initiative, the RT program "is a privilege program that, if fully operational, would offer a streamlined security experience for applicants," said Hawley.

Currently, RT is a public/private sector initiative overseen by the TSA.

In the first major survey of its kind, Business Travel Coalition reported 82 percent of respondents said they want airlines to embrace the Registered Traveler program to obtain a consistently expeditious security checkpoint processing, without any other in-lane benefits such as not having to remove shoes, laptops and coats.

While passengers favored not having to disrobe or remove laptops, they said the most important factor in favoring RT is consistent treatment from airport to airport and not having to leave a client early because of uncertainty over screening procedures, according to ASW's sister publication Regional Aviation News. Eighty percent would opt for the $99 RT membership in return for such consistency and expeditious processing. Thirty nine percent said they would upgrade to the $199 premier RT membership the benefits for which could include reserved parking at one's home airport, remote baggage check-in at hotels, airport concession discounts and global assistance. The survey was done on behalf of FLO Corporation and conducted by BTC and mirrors similar survey's conducted in 2005.

Steven Brill, CEO of Verified Identity Pass, said his company wants to test its shoe scanner which would alleviate the necessity for removing shoes. He expressed frustration with the TSA's slow acceptance of its technology.

In 2004, the Registered Traveler Pilot Program was initiated at five U.S. airports to see how the system might work. The project ended in September 2005. In June 2005, TSA created the Private Sector Known Traveler program at Orlando International (MCO) to further test the RT concept. The program demonstrated that biometric verification technology can work under airport operational conditions. Following the Orlando pilot, TSA worked with private industry to roll out an expanded pilot to test interoperability among multiple service providers.

The private firms set interoperability standards approved by TSA in May 2006. TSA then began another pilot program, the Registered Traveler Interoperability Pilot (RTIP), to ensure that the biometric cards used by multiple service providers can be used at different airports nationwide.

The interoperability pilot began this past January, when the first airports and air carriers were approved to provide RT services. TSA is monitoring the system to ensure that participants of one vendor can seamlessly use RT services provided by another vendor. "This is a key component of RT that must be fully functional prior to launching the program nationwide," said Hawley.

Currently seven airports and three carriers are participating in the RTIP in nine locations. Four airports and one carrier have initiated agreements with a service provider, but are not yet operational. Four airports are seeking RT services. TSA has endorsed five service providers. Others are expected to enter the market. Hawley said rulemaking will follow as RTIP matures, using lessons learned and feedback to develop regulations.

"We hope to see new, improved technology in the market as RT matures, and look forward to continued technological success from private industry as they search for ways to make the RT service more successful.

"TSA will continue to work with the RT community and our network of airports and air carriers to advance our mission of securing the Nation's transportation network," Hawley testified.

Airport Security Report -- 08/16/07