Jun 24 2004


U.S. Senator Richard C. Shelby (R-Ala), Chairman of the Appropriations Subcommittee on Transportation, Treasury, and General Government, chaired an oversight hearing today on passenger screening and airline authority to deny boarding. The following is Senator Shelby's opening statement:

“Good afternoon. The subcommittee will come to order. Today, the subcommittee is holding an oversight hearing to examine whether the Federal government has instituted policies to limit an airline from denying transport or requiring additional security screening to individuals who may be unsafe or dangerous.”

“The Federal Aviation Act allows air carriers the right of permissive refusal which is defined as the ability to refuse to transport a passenger or property the carrier decides is a potential risk to safety or security. The Federal Aviation Regulations authorize the pilot in command of the aircraft to discharge this right of permissive refusal on behalf of the air carrier in light of his final authority and responsibility for the operation and safety of the flight.”

“Despite this clear authority, however, there seems to be some question about the ability of an airline to remove passengers based on a perceived threat. At the January 27, 2004, hearing of the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States, a former airline executive testified that, "Most recently after 9/11, 38 of our captains denied boarding to people they thought were a threat. Those people filed complaints with the DOT, we were sued, and we were asked not to do it again."”

“If this is the case, I am concerned that we may be jeopardizing aviation security by placing unnecessary restrictions on pilots and crew to take actions to protect passengers and the plane.”

“If this nation has learned anything since terrorists set their sights on destroying this nation, it is this: terrorists will learn a system, identify the weaknesses of that system, and then exploit those weaknesses to inflict harm.”

“I believe that we must balance an individual's civil liberties with an airline pilot's right to ensure the safety and security of the flight. But in trying to reach that balance, I want to ensure that we have not established policies or practices that will have a chilling effect on the willingness of the pilot in command to exercise his authority to safeguard the crew and all passengers.”

“The Transportation Security Administration check point is not, and should not be, considered the last line of defense to assure the security of a flight by clearing passengers for boarding. The pilot and the crew of an aircraft - and even the passengers - are an important layer in keeping our aviation system secure.”

“We should not forget that Richard Reid, the would-be shoe bomber, was thwarted by other passengers and crew during the flight. Removal of a passenger must be the final decision of the pilot. The last thing we should do is undermine the authority of the pilot to deny boarding or require additional screening to any passenger or group of passengers when has a reasonable suspicion of a threat to a safe flight.”

“I want to thank my colleague, Senator Specter, for raising this issue with me. I believe that it is important to hold this hearing today to highlight this issue and provide clarity on what should be the lines of authority in this matter.”