The Transportation Security Administration, or TSA, is expanding background check requirements for airline employees and airport workers, following an incident in December when a baggage handler in Atlanta, Georgia was arrested for allegedly smuggling firearms aboard commercial flights. The case forced a 90-day review of security policies, ordered by the Department of Homeland Security. Now, as a result of that review, the TSA is officially implementing new background check rules for the aviation industry.
According to a report about the new measures from the Associated Press, the TSA will now be running "real-time, recurring background checks for aviation workers, including airline workers." It's unclear precisely what those "real-time checks" will entail, or how often airline employees will have to pass them in order to continue working aboard commercial flights. Slightly clearer is the new requirement that will require certain airport employees to complete and pass a fingerprint-based criminal history check every two years. This policy, for the time being at least, will only apply to "airport employees who hold Secure Identification Display Area badges." SIDA badges are required to access the most secure areas of any airport facility, including runways, boarding gates, baggage loading areas, and taxiways, according to the USA Today.
Lastly, the new security measures will require all airport and airline workers to go through standard TSA screenings before being allowed to travel as passengers themselves. No one will be allowed to bypass security, or receive special treatment that could allow for potential security breaches.
The Department of Homeland Security hopes that these new measures will help to patch up holes in the system and prevent potential insider threats. Following last year's gun smuggling case in Georgia, the TSA was criticized for focusing very heavily on the screening and monitoring of passengers, but being comparatively lax when it came to screening airline or airport employees. These new measures will help to repair that disconnect, and will hopefully make air travel safer for all involved.
Recurring background checks, of course, are a smart idea in any scenario. A background check only gives a snapshot of a person's criminal history at the specific time at which the check was administered. It makes sense to periodically update that snapshot in order to make sure that employees are still safe and trustworthy. Requiring additional ultra-thorough checks for employees with access to secure airport areas is also a very good idea, and should help to prevent a case like the Atlanta gun smuggling incident from happening again in the future.