By Sen. John Thune
Memorial Day has long marked the unofficial start to summer, and with it, a busy travel season quickly ensues. Whether you and your family are hopping in the car this summer for a trip across the state or boarding a plane for an adventure around the country or overseas, safety is rightfully top-of-mind. Everyone who relies on air travel wants peace of mind that airport officials – both in the United States and abroad – are doing everything they can to protect the traveling public and prevent bad actors from doing bad things.
Aviation safety and security was recently thrust back into the national conversation after an EgyptAir flight bound for Cairo, Egypt, crashed into the Mediterranean Sea in the middle of the night shortly after entering Egyptian airspace. Until the investigation is complete, no one can say with certainty what brought down the flight and the 66 lives that went with it, but absent clear evidence of a technical failure, terrorism cannot be ruled out. Although no credible claim of responsibility has yet to be made, U.S. and Egyptian officials have already suggested that terrorism or another form of foul play could be to blame for the downed flight.
In the Senate Commerce Committee, which I chair, aviation security has been one of our top priorities. Last December, the Commerce Committee approved legislation I authored that would protect the traveling public by tightening the vetting process for workers who have access to secure areas in airports throughout the country. We also approved an amended version of House legislation to expand PreCheck enrollments that will help shorten TSA screening lines. In April, these measures were included in my bipartisan FAA Reauthorization Act of 2016 that the Senate approved by a vote of 95-3.
Also included in the package of security measures, which I co-sponsored with a bipartisan group of senators, including the Commerce Committee’s ranking member, is a provision that would strengthen security at international airports with direct flights into the United States, also known as last-point-of-departure airports. We must ensure that U.S.-bound flights meet the highest security standards.
Since it’s impossible to have TSA agents screening passengers outside of the United States at last-point-of-departure airports, our amendment requires the TSA to conduct a security risk assessment in conjunction with domestic and foreign partners, including foreign governments and airlines, and an assessment of TSA’s workforce abroad. The amendment also authorizes the TSA to donate security screening hardware to last-point-of-departure airports around the world that currently lack the necessary equipment.
The FAA bill, which contains all of these important security provisions and numerous other reforms, cleared the Senate last month with strong support. Taken together, these security reforms comprise a comprehensive approach to addressing emerging threats. It’s now time for my colleagues in the House of Representatives to take up this bill so we can get meaningful safety and security reforms that can protect air travelers around the United States to the president’s desk without delay.