TSA expands reach with new anti-terror regs

The Transportation Security Administration on Friday unveiled long awaited regulations designed to protect against terrorist strikes involving aircraft repair stations near airports.

Part of the government’s response to the 9/11 attacks of 2001, the regulations extend TSA’s security enforcement authority over the Federal Aviation Administration-certified stations, where commercial planes undergo maintenance.

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The regulations, which take effect next month, reflect the government’s view that the stations “continue to be a prime target of terrorist threats,” according to a notice to be published in Monday’s Federal Register.

In particular, the rule aims to keep terrorists from commandeering unattended aircraft that are capable of flight and crashing them into populated areas.

“Enhancement of security at repair stations that have access to runways will mitigate the potential threat that a large aircraft could be used as a weapon,” the agency contends.

The regulations allow unannounced inspections at the facilities. Based on inspections, the TSA will have authority to order the repair stations to take corrective action.

The new rule comes on top of regulations already put in place by the FAA, which has sought to fill safety gaps in the years since the Sept. 11 attacks.

Still, a coalition of transportation unions panned the regulations as too weak, noting they would only apply to those repair stations on or adjacent to airports – a carve-out not mentioned in the 2003 statute that guided the rule-making.

“The security challenges raised by the heavy use of contract maintenance are not limited to stations at airports and Congress clearly did not identify this distinction when it mandated security enhancements,” Transportation Trades Department, AFL-CIO said in a statement issued Friday.

Further, the group, comprised of 32 member unions, argues the rule fails to address concerns related to background checks of contract station employees.

“We understand that foreign governments and industry trade groups were pushing TSA to water down this security rule,” the unions said. “But we expected more from an agency that is supposed to be focused on transportation security.”

The regulations are expected to cost roughly $23.22 million over 10 years, though the agency argues that a single terrorist attack could inflict enough damage to rival that total.