Washington is refocused on aviation security after last week’s EgyptAir disaster over the Mediterranean that killed all 66 on board the flight from Paris to Cairo. Although the cause of the deadly crash has yet to be determined, U.S. lawmakers are renewing demands that airport screening be both thorough and speedy.
The EgyptAir disaster raises questions and concerns at a time when U.S. air travelers already experience record lines and delays passing through security. Some lawmakers are pointing a finger at Islamic State for last week’s crash.
“We know they successfully took down an airliner flying from Egypt to Russia,” said Republican Congressman Ed Royce on ABC-TV’s This Week program. “We know that they are working on a bomb that’s undetectable.”
If lawmakers are assuming a heightened terrorist threat until evidence proves otherwise, pressure will mount on federal airport screeners, widely reported to be understaffed and overburdened even on the best of days.
“One of the difficulties we’ve had is with a great deal of turnover at TSA, and there are certainly management problems at TSA,” Royce added.
Last year, reports surfaced that federal screeners had failed to detect fake weapons and explosives in an alarming percentage of tests. The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) insists that gaps and vulnerabilities have been fixed.
“We have retrained our entire workforce, corrected procedures, improved our technology and analyzed systemic issues,” said TSA Administrator Peter Neffenger testifying on Capitol Hill earlier this year. “I am also confident that TSA is able to deter, detect and disrupt threats to our aviation system.”
Security may be improved, but tempers have been flaring at U.S. airports with some travelers waiting hours to board their flights, or missing flights because of long security check lines.
“On the one hand, we are looking for 100 percent security,” said Republican Senator Ron Johnson at a hearing where TSA whistleblowers came forward. “On the other hand, we are looking for complete efficiency so that lines don’t back up. It’s an enormously complex and difficult task.”
As America enters the busy summer travel season, the White House has a simple message – safety comes first.
“Obviously, our first priority is making sure that people are safe,” White House spokesman Eric Schultz said Friday. “TSA must continue its rigorous security screenings and we're not going to lower our standards for the sake of convenience.”
Once pinpointed, the cause of the EgyptAir disaster may or may not heighten concerns about the ability of terrorists to down airliners. But lawmakers aren’t waiting and will be pressing for answers at hearings this week.