Pilots have long complained about the impact on their daily working lives of being subjected to enhanced security checks at the airport, something that could start to change following the introduction of a new programme in the USA called Known Crewmember.
The programme, which is being trialled at selected US airports, uses information from airline employee databases to enable US Transportation Security Administration (TSA) officials to positively identify registered pilots, enabling them to bypass the regular security screening process.
The Air Transport Association of America, which is spearheading Known Crewmember alongside the Air Line Pilots Association, provides laptops which use identification numbers to validate the employment status of pilots. Each laptop query takes two seconds to process and a photograph of the pilot appears on the screen, which is then checked against two forms of identification carried by the pilot, says Tom Hendricks, ATA senior vice-president of safety, security and operations.
"There is a random aspect to this and some pilots are designated for normal random screening," adds Hendricks.
Known Crewmember is being tested at Chicago O'Hare and Miami International and will be trialled at a number of other US airports later this year. Once the trials come to an end, a 90-day evaluation period will begin. ATA and ALPA's goal is to implement the programme at the largest 83 airports in the USA, says Hendricks.
He adds that ATA "would like to entertain discussion with international authorities and the TSA" about the possibility of allowing pilots from outside the USA to sign up to the programme, a move that would be welcomed by UK pilot union BALPA.
Pilots are "incredulous that they are checked in the same way as passengers for sharp objects when they will have an axe on the flightdeck and control of the trajectory", says BALPA head of safety and security Rob Hunter.
BALPA is "fully in favour" of Known Crewmember, adds flight safety officer David Reynolds, and would like to see a similar programme in the UK. "In the long term, non-US pilots will be able to sign up to the US Known Crewmember programme, but this may well be 10 years away - it's a long way off."
Hunter is concerned about the impact of pilot security checks on pre-flight preparation time: "The amount of time to do the prep is already constrained. When you add in additional security checks, it competes with the remaining prep time, and this can be very stressful."
All security screening regulations that passengers are subject to are also in place for pilots, with the exception that pilots are permitted to take 150ml of contact lens solution onboard while passengers are limited to 100ml. "We would like to see flight crew put into a lower risk categoryso they're not searched to the nth degree," says Reynolds. "[Pilots] shouldn't have to take their shoes off and empty their bags every time."