Keating Airport Security Bill Passes House

Six years after a fatal airplane stowaway incident ended in the night sky over Milton, an airport security bill that Congressman William Keating filed in response may be nearing final approval.

Keating's Airport Perimeter and Access Control Security Act initially passed the U.S. House of Representatives in July 2016. On Tuesday the House unanimously passed a revised version, and Keating says it will be among the first to be taken up by the Senate in the coming weeks.

"If you get it over there early, the prospects (for passage) go way up," the four-term Bourne Democrat told The Patriot Ledger in a Wednesday phone interview. "We'd rather get it passed that way than wait for another tragedy."

Keating was referring to the Jan. 6 shootings at the Fort Lauderdale, Fla. airport. Esteban Santiago Ruiz is charged with killing five people and wounding six in the baggage claim area.

Keating said fresh Congressional concerns were also been raised by the 2016 bombings and shootings at airports in Brussels, Belgium, and Istanbul, Turkey In the aftermath of all those attacks, Keating said his bill "wouldn't have any problems" getting President Donald Trump's signature.

The House vote was Jan. 31. It's not clear how soon the Senate might vote. If enacted, Keating's bill would require the federal Transportation Security Administration to regularly update its assessments of the risk of perimeter breaches at the nation's 437 commercial airports.

The issue has been among Keating's top interests since his first term, when one such breach occurred – with a grisly end.

On the night of Nov. 15, 2010, the mangled body of a young man was found off Brierbrook Street in Milton, near Route 28. He was later identified as Delvonte Tisdale, 16, of Charlotte, N.C.

Investigators said he had sneaked onto the Charlotte-Douglas International Airport runways – apparently by climbing a tree at a perimeter fence – and hid in one of the wheel wells of a Boeing 737.

Investigators said Tisdale was probably already dead when he fell from the wheel well when the plane's landing gear opened as it made the approach to Logan Airport. He was living with relatives in Charlotte, and they said they thought he'd hidden on a plane to join his mother in Baltimore.

Keating, a former Norfolk County district attorney, had just been elected to Congress. The incident prompted him to use his seat on the House's Homeland Security Committee to hold hearings on gaps in airport security – and introduce his first perimeter security bill in 2011.

He said the measure gained wider support last year, with the help of a General Accounting Office study that Keating requested. The GAO report is part of the bill he re-introduced this month.

It was the first such analysis of weaknesses in airport perimeter security since 2009, and the analysis showed that between 2010 and 2015, the TSA had surveyed the perimeters of just one-fifth of the 437 airports.

"That was the turning point," Keating said. "It showed we weren't dealing with the emerging kind of threats – the softer targets."

Meanwhile, a 2016 Associate Press investigation found that intruders get inside airport fences somewhere in the country more than 30 times a year.

"We've been putting defensive players on the field," he said of current airport protection. "But we didn't have a defensive coordinator."

(This article originally appeared in the Patriot Ledger)