Private security firm taking over at Sarasota airport

Sarasota, Florida -- Airline passengers using Sarasota-Bradenton International Airport will see a change in security in November when a private contractor takes over for the Transportation Security Administration.

Airport CEO Rick Piccolo says the move is a philosophical one.

"What you have here is the regulator is regulating itself. TSA is the regulator and the operator in most countries you separate the two. You are basically regulating yourself it's a slippery slope for uncovering problems," Piccolo said.

"I suppose anything that's not under government control would be better," says passenger Bill Barnes.

"As long as safety measures are still kept up," adds passenger Lori Shipley.

MORE: Airports going to private contractors

The Sarasota airport is one of 20 out of 450 nationwide that the TSA has allowed to opt out through the Screening Partnership Program. Fourteen of those have made the switch -- Key West's airport is one, and Sanford International Airport near Orlando goes online next followed by Sarasota.

"The TSA will oversee that private company and that private company will have to meet all the criteria TSA imposes," Piccolo said.

Lori Shipley has her doubts a private company will do a better job. "Inappropriate training, taking short cuts to hurry up, get people on board so they can get paid for hiring amount of individuals in a timely fashion," she said.

Piccolo offered some reassurance.

"It'll be exactly the same equipment the same requirement, same training," he said.

RELATED:Overview of the federal program

Airports are not busy all the time. Despite all the TSA agents on hand, the screeners were slow on a Wednesday afternoon at SRQ. That's why Piccolo thinks privatizing screeners would help make the security checkpoints more efficient.

"Hopefully give more flexibility to their scheduling so they can address the peaks and valleys better," Piccolo said.

And passengers hope customer service will improve, too.

"Treatment of people being nicer to them," Barnes said of one change he would like to see.

By law, TSA screeners will have a chance to work for the private company and be equally compensated. The TSA screeners who do not want to switch to the private operator would be transferred to another TSA position or federal job.

Here are some frequently asked questions of TSA's Screening Partnership Program, program:

Q. Are SPP contract screeners members of unions? Do they have collective bargaining agreements?

A. Screeners at two SPP airports currently participate in unions. Together, these two airports comprise about 80 percent of the SPP workforce: San Francisco International (SFO) – Service Employees International Union (SEIU), and Kansas City International (MCI) – Security, Police and Fire Professionals of America (SPFTA) - (No Collective Bargaining Agreement is in place at this time).

Q. Did the original five SPP pilot airports ever use federal screeners?

A. No. These airports -- San Francisco International (SFO), Kansas City International (MCI), Jackson Hole (JAC), Tupelo Regional (TUP) and Greater Rochester International (ROC) -- were selected for the pilot program after the attacks of Sept. 11, when TSA was starting the agency. Therefore, they have never had federal screeners, only those employed by a private contractor.

Q. Why haven't more airports applied to SPP, and why are the ones that have applied almost all small airports?

A: All commercial airports have been eligible to apply to SPP since November 2004 at the conclusion of a two-year pilot. There is no size requirement. Of the 450 commercial airports in the country, only 20 have applied.

Q. What happens to federal screeners (TSOs) when airports transition to SPP?

A. Federal TSO positions are eliminated when an airport joins SPP. TSA supports provisions that assist federal screeners, giving them priority for employment with the private contractor and/or facilitating movement to other TSA positions or federal employment. TSA supports these provisions because the agency believes it is in the best interest of both security and cost-effectiveness.


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