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U.S. pilots to get speedier screening procedures

By Mike M. Ahlers and Jeanne Meserve, CNN
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Airport screening procedures under fire
  • Pilots will now present airline ID and another form of identification
  • They will still be subject to random screening and other layers of security
  • Pilots unions welcome the announcement

Washington (CNN) -- Airline pilots who want to skip certain airport screening measures -- saying it's wasteful to search pilots for sharp objects when they can bring down planes with their bare hands -- are finally getting their way.

The Transportation Security Administration announced Friday that it is taking steps to streamline screening for U.S. airline pilots.

Pilots traveling in uniform on airline business will be allowed to bypass normal security screening by presenting screeners with their airline ID and another form of identification, the TSA said. The screeners will check the information against a secure, real-time airline crew member database, which includes a picture and other information to verify the pilots' employment status, the TSA said.

Pilots will be subject to random screening and other layers of security, the TSA said.

The TSA said the changes will take effect immediately while it phases in a more permanent system.

Pilots have long argued that it is a waste of costly security resources to check pilots for restricted objects. Thousands of pilots, they note, are licensed to carry firearms in cockpits under the government's Federal Flight Deck Officer program. Time spent checking pilots would be better spent checking others, they say.

Senators question security measures
TSA touching a nerve

"Airline pilots are the last line of defense against someone who would use an airplane for ill. And we need to be a trusted partner in our security efforts," retired U.S. Airways pilot Chelsey "Sully" Sullenberger told CNN earlier this week.

"You know, many pilots are already armed as deputized and trained flight deck officers to defend the cockpit. And so really it's a waste of our limited resources to put airline pilots who are trusted partners in this through this screening."

TSA Administrator John Pistole said the change "just makes for smart security and an efficient use of our resources."

The change also will likely squelch pilot complaints about going through full-body scanners, some of which emit low levels of radiation. The TSA says the scanners are safe, exposing people to about the same amount of radiation they would get by flying for about two minutes at altitude.

But pilots have become alarmed by some doctors who say not enough is known about the machines. Recently, a pilots union encouraged its members to avoid the devices.

On Friday, pilots unions called the announcement a welcome change.

For the past three years, the TSA has tested an electronic pilot identification screening system called CrewPASS, or Crew Personnel Advanced Screening System.

The TSA said Friday that CrewPASS will continue to operate at the test sites: Baltimore-Washington Thurgood Marshall International, Pittsburgh International, and Columbia (S.C.) Metropolitan airports.

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