Keating's airport security bill is a strong step forward

Terrorists continue to target airports around the world. The attacks this year in Belgium and Istanbul left 77 victims dead and more than 500 injured. The attack in Brussels shattered a nation’s sense of security. The assault at Ataturk Airport was an attack on the economy of Turkey, and it was deeply felt.

We depend in a significant way on the Transportation Security Administration for safety at our airports. With its rules and delays, the TSA has been a brunt of jokes and serious complaints. The fact, however, is that we haven’t had a serious terrorist attack on a U.S. airport.

While we complain about long lines and taking off our shoes, there is an area of airport security that lags behind passenger screening. There are innumerable ways to get onto any airport property. Some are zealously guarded and some are not. In addition, thousands of people with badges have access to airport buildings daily with minimal review by security personnel. These are some of the areas that the TSA will be charged to address under a bill approved by the House this week largely through the efforts of Congressman Bill Keating, whose district includes much of Southeastern Massachusetts, the Cape and the islands. Keating has been tenacious and determined in pursuing passage of the Airport Perimeter and Access Control Security Act of 2016, which won approval in the House on Tuesday. It now goes to the Senate and, we hope, to the desk of the president for signing into law.

Keating was district attorney of Norfolk County in November of 2010 when a 16-year-old North Carolina boy got onto the airfield in Charlotte and climbed into the wheel well of a Boeing 737. His frozen body fell to the ground when that plane lowered its wheels to land in Boston. The battered body was found the night of Nov. 15 on Brierbrook Street in Milton near the Blue Hills Reservation. From the start, one of Keating’s questions was how Delvonte Tisdale got onto the airfield in Charlotte. Two months later, that was the question Keating was asking when he took his seat in Congress for the first time, and a question he has continued to pursue for five years.

There are 437 commercial airports in the United States. Government data indicate that only 19 percent of them are evaluated for security by the TSA over a six-year period; in one year, the TSA checked on the security plans and practices at only one airport in the United States. Keating’s bill would require the TSA to modernize and enhance airport perimeter security by, among other things, consistently updating the risk assessments it performs at airports. Additionally, and for the first time, the TSA would be charged with developing a comprehensive plan to keep airport perimeters and access points safe in the face of terror threats that are changing and evolving.

The traveling public and the people who work at airports are safer because of Keating’s insistence that we make airport grounds and buildings safer. We appreciate and thank him for his effort.

(This article originally appeared in the Patriot Ledger)