TSA revises ‘Playbook’ airport security measures

Aviation International News » April 2009
April 1, 2009, 6:19 AM

Following bungled security inspections of general aviation facilities at Nashville International Airport and Bradley International Airport in Windsor Locks, Conn., the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) significantly changed “Operation Playbook,” a controversial security program for GA introduced through a pilot program last year.

“NBAA has raised significant concerns with TSA officials over the application of Operation Playbook, including some of the actions taken by local federal security directors at airport general aviation facilities,” said Doug Carr, NBAA v-p of safety, security and regulation. “TSA indicated that changes to the playbook were under way, and the updated version being introduced by the agency should reflect the concerns we raised.”

According to the National Air Transportation Association (NATA), Operation Playbook was originally launched at commercial airports throughout the U.S. late last year. It was an initiative where local TSA officials would include random security measures in their procedures, including physical screening and searches of passengers and baggage.

TSA headquarters staff said the reason for using the playbook was so that local TSA and FBO officials could coordinate a time where both entities could prepare and execute enhanced security measures. However, some local TSA officials in- corporated these security measures at FBOs without advance notice.

The TSA developed Operation Playbook with the goal of enhancing security at airports by adding unpredictability and flexibility to security initiatives. The program, which incorporated airport officials and local law enforcement personnel, was introduced at several airports, including Detroit Metropolitan Wayne County, Pittsburgh International, St. Louis Lambert, Ronald Reagan Washington National and Columbus (Ohio) International.

When the TSA’s federal security directors attempted to implement Operation Playbook at all airports, the effort was met with skepticism from general aviation because of concerns about the scope, requirements and method of implementation for the plan.

In a “white paper” issued by the TSA on March 12, the agency said it has shifted its resources from a static, checkpoint-based security model to a more nimble, unpredictable approach that starts well before passengers arrive at an airport. “We are extending this effort and including our airport partners,” TSA said. NATA noted that the security procedures are for commercial airports only.

The reworked plan is optional, although the TSA encourages airports wishing to participate to sign a memorandum of agreement outlining the security responsibilities of TSA officials and local airport personnel.

“Broadly speaking, the playbook is a confidential document, so the TSA won’t be sharing with us any specific changes to the portions of the plan that concern general aviation,” Carr explained. “However, the agency has been responsive to our communications on this issue to date, and we are hopeful that the changes made to Operation Playbook will reduce the level of concern about the plan felt by many in the business aviation community. We will continue to remain vigilant on this issue, and we would ask our members to do likewise by reporting to NBAA any unusual TSA activity at airports.”

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