TSA Fires Back: Blames Airline for 'Security Violation'

Inspector was able to gain access to planes, but caused nine to be grounded.

ByABC News
August 21, 2008, 8:06 AM

August 21, 2008— -- Even though its inspector's actions caused nine American Eagle planes to be grounded in Chicago this week, the Transporatation Security Administration says it may pursue action against the airline for security lapses.

A TSA inspector, as part of a spot security check, used a sensitive aircraft probe as a handhold to gain access to parked American Eagle planes at Chicago's O'Hare airport. American Eagle Airlines said the "unorthodox inspection techniques" led to additional maintenance inspections of the planes, causing "delays to approximately 40 flights and inconveniencing hundreds of customers."

TSA, however, strongly defended its inspector's actions, noting in a statement that he was able to gain interior access to seven of the nine aircraft he inspected, which was an "apparent violation of the airline's security program." TSA said it encourages its inspectors to look for such vulnerabilities and after reviewing the inspection results, the agency "could take action against the airline, up to and including levying civil penalties."

In a statement, American Eagle Airlines said it was "confident that it followed all proper security procedures for securing aircraft overnight at Chicago's O'Hare International Airport." The airline also noted that "if not observed by vigilant Eagle employees in Chicago, the actions of this inspector would have been unknown and could have jeopardized the safety of our customers and crew."

TSA acknowledged that its inspector pulled himself up the side of the aircraft by using a Total Air Temperature (TAT) probe as a handhold. The TAT probe, which measures outside air temperature and connects to key computer systems inside the aircraft, is considered critical to flight safety. TSA said it was not its intent to "cause delays or potential damage to aircraft as a result of our inspections," and that the agency acted quickly to "re-enforce education about sensitive equipment located on the exterior of a plane."

Meanwhile, Aero-News Network (ANN), a leading source of aviation industry news, reported that the O'Hare TSA inspector had apparently used the same technique previously to gain access to parked planes.