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"Private security brings advantages, disadvantages to Montana airport"
Sunday, July 7, 2012
Private security brings advantages, disadvantages to Bozeman airport
BY ROBBY KORTH
The Bozeman (MT) Daily Chronicle
There is a place where airport screeners are rarely complained about, where
they're described by passengers as "polite" and "courteous."
There, screeners don't make headlines for things like being suspected drug
couriers or for sticking their fingers into an urn containing grandpa's
ashes and then dropping them on the floor.
That place is the Sioux Falls Regional Airport in South Dakota, an airport
Bozeman Yellowstone International Airport hopes to emulate in its use of a
private firm to handle passenger screening.
In 2005, Sioux Falls became one of the first in the country to switch from
Transportation Security Administration screeners to a private security firm.
The TSA now serves in an oversight role for the private screeners there.
On June 18, the Bozeman airport applied to have a private firm handle its
passenger screening, giving the TSA 120 days to decide whether the airport
qualifies to join the 16 other airports nationwide that currently have
If the TSA doesn't see an advantage to the Bozeman airport switching to
private security, the agency will have 60 days to present to the airport and
to Congress its reasons, said TSA spokeswoman Lorie Dankers.
A switch to private security wouldn't make for any dramatic changes at the
Bozeman airport, she said.
"The security standards at federalized and privatized airports are
identical. Contractors cannot 'opt-out' of security," Dankers said.
In Sioux Falls, the TSA only oversees screeners hired by private firm
Covenant Aviation Security, and now that Sioux Falls has made the switch,
they wouldn't go back to TSA, said the airport's executive director Dan
"Prior to the switch, the airport received a pretty regular supply of
complaints of treatment and rude behavior," he said. "Since then very
seldom, if ever do we receive complaints about treatment by the screeners."
Sioux Falls was one of the airports Bozeman talked to about the process
because "they're a pretty similarly sized airport," Bozeman Airport Director
Brian Sprenger said.
Customer service is an important part of why the airport filed for private
security, Sprenger said, but it wasn't the only factor.
Sprenger feels a private company, such as Covenant, brings a balance of
experience and flexibility that would work well in Bozeman.
"They have more ability to have work pools that allow them to adapt
quicker," Sprenger said. "(That) may mean that they might have more people
to employ during peaks. And when we have less traffic maybe they'll employ
Covenant was one of the firms the Bozeman airport requested. Airports don't
get to pick their own private firm; the TSA takes bids and decides.
But the TSA doesn't always see a vast improvement with private firms.
"Federal and privatized screening have comparable performance, and there is
no measurement indicating there is a difference in customer service,"
Dankers said. "We have standards and policies in place to ensure that our
workforce performs at a high level and appropriate actions are quickly taken
if those expectations are not met."
As for the money, private firm Covenant and the TSA both claim to be the
cheaper option. But both are paid for by the federal government rather than
the individual airport.
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