Airline Pilot Loses Bid to End Random Screening Requirements

WASHINGTON (CN) –  A pilot who represented himself at the D.C. Circuit lost his bid on Tuesday to overturn changes the Transportation Security Administration made to the screening program for commercial airline crews.

The TSA began allowing expedited screening for pilots at airports in 2010 through the known crewmember program, which allowed pilots to bypass normal passenger screening lines to get to secure parts of airports. The agency expanded the program in 2012 to include flight attendants.

But responding to a gun-smuggling scandal out of an Atlanta airport and growing concerns about the potential for terrorists to exploit the lax crewmember screening procedures, the TSA in 2017 began requiring randomly selected pilots and crewmembers to go through the passenger security line.

Nicholas Bonacci, a pilot based in Houston, grew frustrated after being selected for the more rigorous passenger screening on multiple trips into the airport that year and decided to file a challenge to the TSA’s action in the D.C. Circuit.

A rare self-represented litigant before the court, Bonacci said Congress did not allow the agency to screen crewmembers in the same manner as everyday passengers.

In a 12-page opinion released on Tuesday, Judge Harry Edwards wrote the TSA has significant room to make decisions affecting airport security and is entitled to significant deference from courts in challenges to how it goes about answering that charge.

“As TSA contends, it has reasonably concluded that a random-screening regime is required to protect airline travelers from the unique threats posed by insiders with privileged access to airport sterile areas,” Edwards wrote. “Recognizing the limits of our review, and seeing no persuasive evidence that TSA’s policies are unauthorized or otherwise impermissible, we decline to overturn the agency’s reasoned decisionmaking.”

Bonacci did not immediately return a request for comment on the decision.

A spokeswoman for the TSA praised the decision in a statement Tuesday.

“TSA is pleased by the court’s ruling that our actions in this matter were justified and consistent with the agency’s mandate to safeguard aviation and national security,” Michelle Negron, assistant press secretary for the TSA, said in a statement.

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