After a Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) safety inspector reportedly bypassed security and flew from Atlanta to New York with a gun in his carry-on baggage, FAA Administrator Michael P. Huerta is now suspending the program allowing agency safety inspectors to skip security screening.
Officials said the FAA employee used a Security Identification Display Area (SIDA) badge to avoid Transportation Security Administration (TSA) screening and gain access to a secure area of Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport.
The safety inspector did not have SIDA privileges at New York’s LaGuardia Airport, where the firearm was allegedly found in his carry-on baggage during standard TSA screening.
"The FAA will stand down the program while it conducts improved training for all of its inspectors," FAA said in a statement. "The agency also will require inspectors to sign a new agreement that details each inspector’s responsibility under the program and clearly states that any infraction related to a weapon will result in an immediate and permanent suspension of privileges and possible further disciplinary action."
The arrest of the FAA employee occurred just weeks after Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY) called for tighter security screening for all US airport workers.
As Homeland Security Today previously reported, Sen. Schumer made the announcement in response to the arrest of a Delta Airlines worker for involvement in a plot to smuggle 153 guns onto a flight from Atlanta to New York City.
"When guns, drugs and even explosives are as easy to carry on board a plane as a neck pillow, then we have to seriously — and immediately — overhaul our airport practices," Schumer said at a press conference in Washington, DC.
According to the FBI, on at least five occasions in 2014, Eugene Harvey—a baggage handler at Hartsfield-Atlanta airport— worked with another former Delta employee to smuggle firearms through airport-controlled security checkpoints for Delta employees. Harvey was not required to go through the screening performed for passengers by TSA.
Once through the airport-controlled security checkpoints, the firearms were transported in carry-on baggage into the passenger cabins of aircraft. Harvey’s accomplice flew to New York with the guns.
Sen. Schumer called the gun smuggling operation a “cake walk to pull off” that revealed a “gaping and dangerous loophole in airport security plans.”
These two cases bear striking resemblances. The suspects in the Delta airlines gun smuggling ring allegedly took advantage of employee tags that allowed them to bypass normal security.
In addition, Hartsfield-Atlanta airport was the point of origin in both cases.
"TSA is taking these recent incidents very seriously, and has taken immediate steps to enhance site security at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport and other major US airports," TSA.
Last week, Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Jeh Johnson traveled to the Hartsfield-Atlanta airport to meet with TSA and airport stakeholders to discuss and assess potential vulnerabilities related to site security at airports nation-wide.
Johnson announced DHS has requested the Aviation Security Advisory Committee to immediately conduct a comprehensive review of security issues involving the sterile areas at airports in order to identify ways for the Department to address any potential vulnerability.
“TSA is implementing or considering a range of measures including additional requirements for airport and airline employee screening, conducting additional, randomized security countermeasures at employee access points, and introducing additional security patrols by TSA teams of law enforcement and screening professionals to specifically address these concerns,” DHS said.