Would you feel safer flying with the hiring and training of additional TSA officers/agents’/whatever they have to call themselves to feel important’, or would you rather they hire & train more air traffic controllers?

PS I object to the TSA as a whole as security theater, but for the most part, all of my interactions with TSA personnel has been professional, even if the rules they enforce are stupid, and even if they occasionally drink their own kool-aid (I don’t argue with them, I have a plane to catch).

PPS I suspect the reason ATC is hurting for people such that it has to use grinding schedules is because the training is tough, the work stressful, and the pay is high enough (median $122K/year) that management is not keen to staff centers fully if they can avoid it.  Add in that politically, TSA is something of a jobs program for the unskilled.  Still, for every 2-3 Blue shirts, we could have another ATC on the job.  Imaginary terrorist plots rank much lower to me than very real collisions.

Category: Road, Statehouse, Theater

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17 Responses to Given a choice…

  1. greginak says:

    Definitely more ATC’s then TSA’s. However since we do need some security at airports i’d rather have it been provided by public cops/ security then run by the airlines. Having cities or counties or even a state would be fine, it doesn’t have to be a national program. Airport security is a bit more than just theater, it has a valid purpose. It is just that most of the things that have been added since 911 aren’t all that useful.

    • oscar.gordon says:

      I have no issue with airports & airlines running security with the TSA acting as regulatory referee. They have more incentive to strike a balance between security & harassment (losing a plane & customer confidence is freaking expensive) that the TSA does not. The reason the airlines have so far tolerated the TSA is because it insulates them from liability. If the TSA screws up & lets a terrorist or bomb on-board, the airline/airport is without fault, since they can pretty much lay the blame on the TSA. The reason they are starting to chafe is because the TSA is incompetent, they discourage travelers from flying, and the fact that they regularly fail obvious security audits means two things: the threats they largely claim they are preventing are imaginary, and if those threats ever are realized, the TSA will most likely fail to stop them and the airlines will still lose some pretty damn expensive investments & customers.

      • greginak says:

        That airlines have an incentive to balance their air ops with security is why i don’t want them doing security. That opens them up to have to sacrifice somethings for their core mission. Moving human cargo is their primary goal so that will get priority over other things. However on the other side the airlines do well with maintenance which is good for them. Still mixing a to many disparate functions and roles in one org leads to something getting short shrift. Security people should be focused just on security since the downside of them f’ing up is to high. They shouldn’t be worrying overly much about other missions.

        That said, we could do just fine with a lot less TSA.

        • oscar.gordon says:

          Fair point, although in the same vein, the TSA has zero skin in the game except for political fallout. If a terrorist gets through, the blue shirts are fine, no one is going to lose a job or a life unless there is some glaring mistake (in much the same way that every government body insulates itself from responsibility). The incentive for the blue shirts to be diligent is basically pinned on their better nature. The political leadership naturally wants no screw-ups because that does put heat on them, so they just crank down on everything as hard as they can so they can claim they did everything they could do.

          Thus my schema, airlines/airport actually do security (both do it, each handling different aspects, or ideally they subcontract it to firms who do focus on security, so as to avoid drifting away from core competencies) with the TSA giving guidance & setting standards, as well as taking action should a failure occur. I imagine if the TSA did a security audit and charged the airport/airline/security firm $10K every time it snuck a gun or bomb through security, we’d have some pretty motivated screeners.

        • greginak says:

          Fair enough. But at least i hope we can agree that, per GC’s comment below, security theater is all his fault. He is the one who feels safer.

        • oscar.gordon says:

          Oh, totally GC’s fault. No question.

        • (ahem) I’m in the room! 🙂

      • Jhanley says:

        The pre-TSA model did not work poorly, and security has not improved under the TSA.

        Under the old model, with airports contracting out security, failures could lead to loss of contracts, as could too many complaints, which gave an incentive to provide good security and good service. A bureaucratic agency–while they are by no means always as bad as inveterate detractors claim–have less incentive to provide good quality because loss of contract is not a threat.

        It remains an irony that it was a conservative president who decided a government agency would be superior to a market-based model.

  2. I know more ATC’s is probably the right answer, assuming simply adding more ATC’s is what’ll make air traffic control safer.

    But….I would actually *feel* safer with at least a robust number of TSA’s. Maybe I’m just being duped by the security theater–and that’s a real probability–but I do feel safer.

    • oscar.gordon says:

      More ATCs mean less fatigued ATCs, mean less mistakes that could result in airplanes hitting each other.

      TSA blue shirts add little actual security.

      • greginak says:

        Also finally getting a new computer/ATC system could help the ATC’s.

        • oscar.gordon says:

          No doubt, the FAA can get off its ass and do that any day now.

        • Michael Cain says:

          My experience as a legislative staffer sitting in on the post-mortems for disastrous attempts at software purchases by the state government left me convinced that the various rules make it almost impossible for governments to buy functional software systems.

          Occasionally relatively small organizations that are allowed to staff properly are able to develop software that works.

        • Oscar Gordon says:

          The FAA has been working on NextGen, in one incarnation or another, for what has to be 2 decades now, if not longer.

      • “More ATCs mean less fatigued ATCs,….”

        That’s probably an important point.

    • Jhanley says:

      This is an important political point, though. It’s difficult to get people to support what they can’t see and whose effects they don’t notice. I don’t doubt that’s one of the reasons hiring more ATCs hasn’t become a priority.

      • Oscar Gordon says:


        Of course, in recent history, it seems as if our government only wants to show off the workings of authority & obvious infrastructure, and keep hidden the more nuts & bolts stuff.

        I mean, most people think ATC is housed in the tower of an airport (that’s ground traffic control, not air traffic control). Aside from a pretty dismal movie some years back (Pushing Tin), the public is largely unaware of what ATC is or does, and I think the government is largely OK with that (don’t want the terrorists to learn the weaknesses, doncha know).

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