Trump wants higher TSA fees on airline tickets

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WASHINGTON – President Trump proposed again Monday in his budget blueprint to raise Transportation Security Administration fees on airline tickets, which has been a non-starter in Congress.

But TSA technology has been supported by lawmakers, and Trump proposed to invest $71 million in new equipment to make airport screening more effective and faster.

Trump proposed to raise the TSA fees for each one-way ticket to $6.60 from $5.60, for the year starting Oct. 1. The fee would also rise from $6.60 to $8.25 per one-way trip in 2020.

But airlines and travel advocates have opposed higher fees, and Congress refused to raise the fee when Trump proposed it last year.

Airlines for America, a trade group representing most of the largest carriers, opposed the fee hike estimated to cost passengers $2 billion a year. A previous budget agreement has diverted about $1.3 billion per year in TSA fees to deficit reduction.

“Increasing taxes in any form will add to the cost of flying for millions of Americans, curtail job growth and limit the options small and medium communities currently enjoy,” said A4A CEO Nicholas Calio. “Billions of dollars have already been diverted from aviation security to go towards deficit reduction or other sectors of government.”

Meanwhile, TSA has been experimenting since June with Computed Tomography (CT) machines at checkpoints in Phoenix and then Boston. Trump’s budget singles out the 3-D scanners as part of new technology to thwart emerging threats to passenger flights.

“The technology provides high-definition 3D images that screeners can zoom and rotate to identify and remove suspicious items before they get onto an airport,” the budget said.

The machines have been used for 15 years to screen checked luggage because they allow the TSA officer to rotate the image for a better look at suspicious objects inside a bag.

Screeners have trouble seeing through the clutter of carry-on bags with standard X-ray machines at checkpoints, which is why travelers have to take laptops out of their bags.

Improving the technology became more urgent last year when the Department of Homeland Security said terrorists found better ways to hide explosives in electronics.

A laptop bomb blew a hole in the side of Somalia’s Daallo Airlines flight as it departed Mogadishu in February 2016, killing the presumed bomber before the plane landed safely.

A terror plot in Australia was foiled in July when police charged suspects for allegedly developing a pipe bomb from parts of a meat grinder. Authorities found the bomb in checked luggage because the bag was overweight.

In March, the department temporarily prohibited electronics larger than cellphones in carry-on bags on direct flights of nine airlines from 10 airports in the Turkey, the Middle East and Africa. The last of the carriers was removed from the ban in July after security was tightened.

Interviews with passengers boarding international flights to the U.S. began in October.

Members of the House Homeland Security Committee have advocated faster acquisition of CT machines, once TSA has confirmed through testing that they are reliable.

Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Texas, who heads the panel, said he wants CT machines at all U.S. airports and the 10 riskiest airports that send flights to the U.S.

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