Private companies could sell security passes for frequent fliers at as many as 20 airports by the end of the year, the government said Thursday.
The passes would be part of the Registered Traveler program, which would let airline passengers go through a separate airport security lane if they pay a fee, pass a government background check and submit 10 fingerprints.
The Transportation Security Administration in October ended a limited test of the program at five airports - in Boston, Houston, Los Angeles, Minneapolis and Washington.
But a private company was allowed to continue testing Registered Traveler in Orlando, Fla.
The TSA wants private contractors to run the program, but said travelers must be able to use the pass at every airport that offers it.
"We will enable the private sector to launch Registered Traveler programs," TSA chief Kip Hawley said. Ten to 20 airports will participate, and the program could be expanded nationally, he said.
The government will do the background checks for a fee. And the airlines will still have to check everyone against terrorist watch lists.
Airlines and some airports, concerned about long security lines, question whether the program will work.
Passengers would still have to go through a metal detector, have their luggage checked and go through extra screening if they set off an alarm.
It isn't clear whether they'd have to take their laptops out of their cases or remove their shoes.
Hawley said the program's benefits will vary at each airport, but all Registered Traveler travelers will get through checkpoints faster and easier.
On the Net:
Transportation Security Administration: http://www.tsa.gov