ATLANTA — The Transportation Security Administration is considering additional security measures for airport and airline employees, federal officials said Thursday.
The announcement from the Department of Homeland Security came weeks after five people were arrested in a gun-smuggling operation involving passenger jets traveling between Atlanta and New York City. One of those arrested was a Delta baggage handler and ramp agent who worked at Atlanta's Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport. DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson visited the airport on Thursday to review U.S. Customs and Border Protection and TSA operations.
Additional security measures could include enhanced airline-employee screenings, random security checks and additional TSA and law enforcement patrols in secure areas, officials said in a statement. The Aviation Security Advisory Committee has also been asked to review the security of airports nationwide to identify all potential ways the Department of Homeland Security can address airport security vulnerabilities.
Sen. Charles Schumer, D-NY, praised the department's announcement, which came a day after he called for the TSA to require daily screenings of airport and airline employees.
"When it is as easy to carry guns, explosives and drugs onto an airplane as a neck pillow, it's high time to overhaul how airports are required to screen employees with access to secure areas of an airport," Schumer said in a statement.
Robert Mann, a New York-based airline-industry analyst and consultant, said additional security measures are necessary.
"It was no surprise to anybody that's been in the industry that this has been an area that was just rife for exploitation," he said.
But he said the question now is how the TSA plans to implement any changes; shifting resources from passenger security checks to airline and airport employees without boosting manpower, for example, could negatively impact travelers, he said.
Brooklyn District Attorney Ken Thompson, who helped lead the investigation into the gun-smuggling case in Atlanta, said in a statement that he is glad federal officials are looking to improve airport security, but added that "the devil is in the details."
"I look forward ... to hearing more from DHS and TSA on the necessary steps that they will take to protect the American public," he said.
Following the gun-smuggling arrest, the Hartsfield-Jackson airport has increased random inspections and its police presence, airport spokesman Reese McCranie said in a statement. McCranie said airport officials are working with federal authorities "on a daily basis to enhance our security posture, and we plan to announce further changes soon."