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BTC: Travel Industry Needs Trusted Traveler Program

January 3, 2011 By: George Dooley Travel Agent

The Business Travel Coalition (BTC) has kicked off 2011 by reiterating its long standing support for positive-profiling of airline passengers in the U.S. aviation system and offering a series of recommendations for a viable trusted traveler program. “Never has there been so much public, travel industry and think tank support for risk-based transportation security policy," the BTC said.

“A trusted traveler program would enhance national security, improve our economic output and jobs through increased business travel and commercial transactions and free scarce economic resources for pursuing terrorists where they sleep,” said Kevin Phillips, BTC chairman.

BTC questioned the effectiveness and high cost of current aviation system security policy: “Few airline, travel and security industry experts would quarrel with the observation of many of the traveling public that treating all passengers as equal threats to the aviation system is counterproductive and wasteful,” BTC said.

Offering a detailed background on the evolution of trusted traveler programs, BTC noted that in the weeks immediately following September 11, 2001, in a collaborative effort with the Association of Corporate Travel Executives, BTC met with corporate travel managers and industry professionals in seven major U.S. airline hub cities to explore what was termed then a ‘Trusted Traveler’ (TT) program. The goal: to help facilitate the return of the business traveler to the air. The organization called airport security "an inconsistent and onerous process, especially for frequent business travelers."

The U.S. Congress in 2001 authorized a TT program to be administered by the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) and financed and implemented by private-sector firms. The first iteration of the program failed on virtually every level - including lack of support from TSA - and abruptly ended in June of 2009 when Verified Identity Pass, Inc. shut down its CLEAR Registered Traveler program, according to BTC.

“The program has been somewhat revived at a handful of airports. Importantly, though, despite the importance of its rebirth the program is doomed to repeat strategic mistakes unless lessons learned are heeded and economic/operational structural modifications are made. We need a return to the concept of a Trusted Traveler program," the BTC said.

For a trusted traveler program to succeed, however, the BTC urged a number of changes, including:

Member Background Checks

TSA needs to assume from TT vendors complete responsibility for managing members background checks. Instead of crosschecking a member’s name against the national terrorism watch list, more robust criminal history background checks need to be conducted on prospective TT members, and recertified at regular intervals.

Air travelers have consistently indicated that they are willing to pay for deeper background checks if current security checkpoint protocols were streamlined for TT members. Moreover, well-vetted TT platform technology specifications were already approved by TSA in collaboration with airports and TT providers.

RT Vendor Technology Ownership

It was flawed thinking from the beginning that program vendors would compete for customers and differentiate themselves by implementing innovative screening technologies in security lanes. As was made abundantly clear with the plagued and infamous GE shoe scanner. TSA controls an approval process that effectively blocks the kind of innovation-based competition envisioned by early program proponents.

Moreover, such a process sets the stage for Congressional oversight wherein in response to queries regarding lack of progress with advanced screening technologies, TSA points fingers at program vendors, and vice versa. A more effective and cost-efficient structure would be for TSA to own the complete screening technology sourcing budget and process such that (1) transparent accountability would be ensured; (2) a consistent security product would be deployed across the aviation system; and (3) a more strategic view would enable visibility to how new screening technologies could be implemented for the benefit of all airline passengers and leveraged into required uses in other transportation modes.

BTC believes that a TSA-owned screening technology approach would allow TT vendors to fully concentrate on the complex task of developing a national TT program with millions of members integrated with Global Entry, or ‘International TT.’ To succeed TT firms will need considerable consumer-marketing expertise and executives with proven skills in customer service delivery and travel industry sales, distribution, marketing and public relations. TT firms will also require key industry relationships and a thorough understanding of airline, airport and travel management company economics.

Member Enrollment Model

A central reason the program in its first iteration only grew to a couple of hundred thousand members, instead of a couple million members with sustainable economics, was an incredibly inefficient and high-cost biometric enrollment process that served as a chokepoint for the program and forced it into a tailspin before a national critical mass could be achieved. Essentially, prospective members had to plan in advance to enroll at participating airports, or program vendors had to ship and provide staff for enrollment kiosks on large corporate campuses.

In contrast, BTC said, what is needed is a strategic partnership with an organization owning a nationwide network of thousands of storefronts (e.g., FedEx Kinkos) where enrollment kiosks and staff could be efficiently deployed and where prospective TT members could conveniently schedule enrollment appointments.



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By George Dooley | January 3, 2011
BTC sees strong public and industry support for changes in airport/airline security.