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TSA looks at doing away with security screening at 150 smaller airports in U.S.

In this June 29, 2016, file photo passengers make their way through a TSA Precheck security line inside Terminal 2 of San Francisco International Airport in San Francisco. AP Photo/Eric Risberg, File

The U.S. Transportation Security Administration (TSA) has studied an idea that could help it save over US$100 million every year — stop screening passengers at over 150 smaller and medium-sized airports throughout the country.

CNN reported Wednesday on internal TSA documents that said the money saved from eliminating screening at those facilities could help to hike security at bigger airports.

It’s an idea that was examined going back to 2011 — and that has drawn serious blowback from aviation experts and the TSA’s own staff.

Coverage of the TSA on Globalnews.ca:

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The documents show that a TSA working group gathered in June to look at the possible risks of this new policy.

They said approximately 10,000 passengers who are screened by just under 1,300 TSA staffers would be affected by the change, and that this amounts to around 0.5 per cent of people out of U.S. airports.

It would see passengers who travel through small and medium-sized airports on aircraft with capacity for up to 60 people screened when they make connecting flights at larger facilities.

READ MORE: TSA finds record 3,391 guns in U.S. carry-on bags in 2016

The proposal reasoned that terrorists would not consider smaller aircraft to be “attractive” targets, that the potential to kill people would be lower than it might be on larger planes.

TSA spokesperson Michael Bilello told CNN that the proposal was part of an ongoing discussion about how the agency can operate within the law.

“This is not a new issue,” he said.

But it remains a controversial one with aviation experts like Mary Schiavo, a former inspector general at the U.S. Department of Transportation.

She told the Washington Post that the idea is “completely nuts,” and that “perhaps they want an outcry from the public to say, ‘oh, no, no, no, Congress, give them the additional $115 million that they say this would save.'”

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File photo of airline passengers lining up at a TSA security check point at Newark Liberty International Airport in Newark, N.J.
File photo of airline passengers lining up at a TSA security check point at Newark Liberty International Airport in Newark, N.J. AP Photo/Mike Derer

The Post noted that 9/11 hijackers Mohamed Atta and Abdulaziz al-Omari flew from Portland, Maine to Boston, where they then took an American Airlines flight that they crashed into the World Trade Center.

Schiavo went on to say that ending security screening at smaller airports would make people afraid to fly out of them — and sap those facilities of air service.

“You poor folks from, say, Toledo, Ohio, you only have three regional flights a day,” she said.

“We’re not going to do any security for you. Would anyone fly from Toledo? Absolutely not. What does it do to Toledo, Ohio? Destroys it. You’ll have no air service.”

Terrorists could use small planes just like they use larger ones, said Juliette Kayyam, CNN analyst and an ex-assistant secretary for intergovernmental affairs at the Department of Homeland Security.

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“People, weapons, dangerous goods and what’s boarding the plane are all potential risks,” she said.

The TSA has not decided to go ahead with this policy change, said Frederick Hill, spokesperson for the Senate Committee, Science and Transportation, which oversees the agency.

He said the TSA would be expected to consult with House and Senate committees if it were to move forward with this adjustment.