1:37 p.m. EST, June 12, 2012
The federal government Monday gave Orlando Sanford International Airport permission to seek bids from private security companies that would screen passengers before they boarded a flight.
Relying on a new aviation law, managers of the small airport east of Sanford have been pushing since February to start the process that could result in the federal Transportation Security Administration being replaced with a private force.
Months likely will pass before a final decision is made, but airport president Larry Dale said he is confident he can find a company that will provide the same services as – if not better than – TSA and at a cheaper price.
The key to going private, TSA spokeswoman Sari Koshetz said in an email, is to "not compromise security or detrimentally affect the cost-efficiency or the effectiveness of the screening of passengers or property at the airport."
Even if airports employ private screeners, the TSA would continue to oversee and pay for them. TSA also would pick the contractor, not the airport.
Dale tried to boot TSA almost two years ago, but the agency rejected his request.
But the Federal Aviation Administration law passed earlier this year made turning down Sanford much more difficult. U.S. Rep. John Mica, R-Winter Park, inserted a word in the legislation saying the TSA "shall" consider opt-out requests from airports rather than "may," as the previous rule said.
Mica, who wrote the law creating the TSA after the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks, contends the agency has become an inefficient bureaucracy with too many managers among its 67,000 employees.
"I hope this opens a new era of reform for TSA operations, not only at Orlando Sanford but across nation," Mica said, adding "TSA needs to focus on going after terrorists – not little old ladies, veterans and children."
Right now, 16 airports have private security, including San Francisco, Kansas City and smaller airports such as Key West and Jackson Hole, Wyo.
Another three airports have applied to go private. The largest is Sacramento International Airport.
The reason to change, Mica and Dale contend, is improved customer service and the possibility of lower cost through a reduction in what they maintain is TSA's overly burdensome and unnecessary management.
Mica said he intends to encourage all airports in Florida to opt out of TSA coverage. The board of Orlando International Airport, which annually handles about 35 million passengers, has not announced plans to replace TSA. The Sanford airport had almost 1.2 million passengers in 2010.