Pilots around the country expressed outrage and concern today about the safety of their planes following an incident where a TSA inspector, conducting a spot security check, used sensitive instrument probes as a handhold to climb onto parked aircraft at Chicago's O'Hare airport. As reported on ABCNews.com, the incident led to the grounding of nine American Eagle planes, causing a ripple effect that delayed 40 flights throughout the day.
Today pilots weighed in with hundreds of complaints on internet aviation forums over whether TSA inspectors were properly qualified to conduct such airplane safety checks, according to Jim Campbell of Aero-News Network, a widely-read aviation industry news service. Campbell said he received over 600 e-mails from worried pilots and other aviation workers.
"This was and is a deadly serious issue," one e-mailer wrote. "I envision something like a TSA inspector trying to remove a prop lock as part of a security check and imparting a stress fracture into a blade."
TSA maintained that its agents are qualified to perform security inspections of parked airplanes. "Our inspectors are extensively trained over what their responsbility entails," TSA spokesperson Elio Montenegro told ABCNews.com. However, Montenegro said he did not know if inspectors received detailed training on aircraft flight systems.
Many pilots today expressed skepticism that TSA inspectors are properly trained. "Their job is to screen baggage and people," wrote an e-mailer. "How the TSA can train their inspectors on every single different style and type of airplane is a question many would like answered. Flight attendants and pilots go to school for months just to learn one specific make and model... but TSA inspectors can apparently walk onto ANY aircraft at ANY time and know exactly what belongs and what doesn't."
Given the sensitivity of the equipment affected by yesterday's incident, Campbell said TSA's security program could have deadly consequences. "I flat out predict that if this continues, an aircraft will be brought down," said Campbell.
Eric Longabardi is a freelance journalist who is a frequent contributor to the ABCNews.com investigative page.