Oct. 16, 2011 -- The Transportation Security Administration is expanding a trial of letting pilots skirt regular airport security lines and the angry stares they get when cutting ahead of passengers.
The TSA on Wednesday made Washington Dulles International Airport the sixth of seven test sites for the "Known Crewmember" program aimed at speeding pilots to their planes while reducing security lines for passengers.
If judged a success, the TSA could extend letting pilots go through separate checkpoints at most of the nation's major airports starting next year.
The program, devised by the airline industry and pilots, lets uniformed pilots from 22 airlines show two forms of identification, which is checked against a database called "Cockpit Access Security System." A recent photo of the pilot pops up on a laptop screen, with either approval or disapproval to proceed without heading through metal detectors or other scanners.
It's the latest TSA experiment in trying to change how fliers are screened for terror threats — a process that many travelers have complained is an invasion of privacy, a source of embarrassment or simply a hassle.
In recent months, the agency no longer requires children under 12 to remove their shoes. It's putting new software on some full-body scanning machines to blur the naked image of fliers. And it's testing a "Trusted Traveler" program at four airports aimed at expediting the screening of travelers who provide more information about themselves to the government beforehand.
TSA Administrator John Pistole says the agency's strategy is to increasingly focus the heaviest screening on the riskiest travelers.
"This new system is a key component, as we continue to explore more risk-based, intelligence-driven security solutions," says Greg Soule, a TSA spokesman.
So far, 40,000 pilots have avoided regular security lines since the Known Crewmember program began Aug. 9 at Chicago O'Hare and was expanded to Miami, Seattle, Minneapolis and Phoenix.
The experiment will be tried at Boston's Logan later this month, with a decision coming in January on whether to take the program nationwide.
In addition to helping speed pilots along, says Sean Cassidy, a pilot for Alaska Airlines, it lets them avoid possibly angering the passengers they could be carrying.
"It can be tense when you're jumping to the front of the line," says Cassidy, first vice president of the Air Line Pilots Association, which devised the program with the airlines' trade group, the Air Transport Association.
This isn't the first effort to try to get airline crews through security separately.
Arinc , a private firm, created a program in July 2008. That CrewPASS project, which is still being tested at Baltimore-Washington International Airport, and in Pittsburgh and Columbia, S.C., has allowed 400,000 to go through separate checkpoints after providing identification and a fingerprint.
Some airlines balked at Arinc's initial costs, but program director Tim Ryan says the largest four airlines could now participate for less than $1 per pilot, with higher costs for smaller carriers. He hopes both experiments can be combined into a single program.
"We have the superior technology and we know how to run the services," Ryan says of the fingerprinting.
So far, flight attendants can't take advantage of either program because of the way the databases are arranged, but both test programs say they'd like to add them.
Corey Caldwell, a spokeswoman for the Association of Flight Attendants, says she hopes attendants will be included "in the near future."