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Wed, Aug 20, 2008

ANN Special Report: TSA Memo Suggests That Agency 'Encourages' Damaging Behavior

Report: Inspector That Screwed Up ORD ERJs Has "Done This Before"

Reported by Jim Campbell, Editor-In-Chief, ANN/Aero-TV

The great TSA-ORD Inspector scandal seems to be but the tip of the proverbial iceberg... and the theme song from the Titanic is playing in the background. ANN has learned that the Inspector that instigated the inspections of nine American Eagle ERJs and created innumerable delays and hassle for the flying public has reportedly DONE THIS BEFORE.

As ANN reported earlier this week, the Clouseau-esque inspector damaged the Total Air Temperature (TAT) probes while the planes were parked on the tarmac at O'Hare Tuesday morning. The probes are an important part of an airliner's flight information system, as they provide real-time temperature information to the planes' EFIS displays and computers... giving flight crews precise information about the aircraft's altitude, and warning of potential icing conditions inflight.

Fortunately, maintenance crews discovered the damaged TAT probes before any of the planes took off on commercial passenger flights... though the need to fix the aircraft did lead to over 40 flight delays for American Eagle passengers.

A flight crew member who has been in contact with ANN previously, with solid credible info on this and other matters, reports the following, "This was not the first time that this same TSA agent had done this. After one of our ORD mechanics caught him doing this he explained that he could damage the TAT sensor. The agent then admitted that he used the sensors many times in the past doing the same thing. The AMR spokesperson states that no TAT sensors were damaged, but she was speaking about the particular aircraft inspected on the 19th. There were no damage found on the morning of the 19th, but another aircraft did have a damaged #1 TAT sensor that was discovered on the morning of the 16th at ORD that the mechanics suspect was caused by the same agent."

An additional report confirms this, and adds that a delay created by this same incident was actually reported to passengers on board an affected aircraft by the frustrated flight crew, themselves.

While this may be terrifying on a number of levels, the situation becomes far more questionable with the release of a recent memo from the TSA in which such damaging and destructive actions are apparently ENCOURAGED. The memo clearly states that, "Aircraft operators are required to secure each unattended aircraft to make sure that people with bad intent cannot gain access to the planes. But during the inspection, TSA's inspector was able to pull himself inside of an unattended aircraft by using a tube that was protruding from the side of the plane. TSA encourages its inspectors to look for and exploit vulnerabilities of this type."

ANN has repeated this quote to a number of aviation professionals throughout the industry within the last hours, with reactions ranging from, "Oh my God," to "that is most idiotic thing I have ever heard." ANN finds it hard to disagree. The statement by TSA, depending on how you interpret it, has the potential to imperil the flying public in myriad ways, and seems a clear violation of a number of FARs as well as possible criminal statutes. TSA's Lara Uselding, however, states that the memo is not intended to suggest any endorsement of the ORD inspection techniques that caused this fracas to start with -- though any person reading it thus far (outside of TSA) has voiced the same concerns ANN has.

Worse; the rank and file of the airline industry is writing and calling ANN with dozens of reports about other damages and violations of aircraft that lead us to assume that it may be a matter of great luck that our fears of a catastrophic aircraft accident arising out of such tampering has not previously occurred.

Even inside TSA, heads are shaking... ANN has received several credible calls from admitted TSA personnel who agree that they do not have the training to take on such responsibilities, and worse, one TSA Insider claims that TSA will "soon" seek the right to "enter any aircraft at any time for any reason."

In the meantime, the  aforementioned TSA memo states that, "On Aug. 19 a TSA transportation security inspector conducted routine compliance inspections on nine American Eagle aircraft parked on the airfield at Chicago's O'Hare International Airport. The inspector looked for and tested, among other things, vulnerabilities associated with unauthorized access to unattended aircraft.

Aircraft operators are required to secure each unattended aircraft to make sure that people with bad intent cannot gain access to the planes. But during the inspection, TSA's inspector was able to pull himself inside of an unattended aircraft by using a tube that was protruding from the side of the plane. TSA encourages its inspectors to look for and exploit vulnerabilities of this type.

The inspector was following through on regulatory inspection activity and was able to gain access to the interior of seven of the nine aircraft he inspected. This was an apparent violation of the airline's security program. TSA is reviewing the inspection results and, depending on the conclusion, could take action against the airline, up to and including levying civil penalties.

While the inspection process is a vital layer of aviation security, it is not TSA's intent to cause delays or potential damage to aircraft as a result of our inspections. TSA took immediate steps to re-enforce education about sensitive equipment located on the exterior of a plane."

TSA also adds that "All TSA inspectors undergo a four-week basic training course that consists of a security regulations overview, inspection procedures and safety briefings. The inspectors received both on-the-job and periodic recurrent training. Additionally, inspectors receive local safety training at each airport for which they receive airport identification credentials." TSA does not mention, however, the use of any airframe or aircraft specific training programs that might have otherwise kept the ORD Inspector from damaging aircraft under his less than expert supervision.

More info to follow... God help us.

FMI: www.tsa.gov, www.faa.gov

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