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U.S. Fliers May See Security Fees Rise, Pistole Says

An increase in U.S. airline security fees is among “strong possibilities” being considered to pay for higher costs of detecting terrorist threats, the Transportation Security Administration chief said.

“There are some different fees being discussed,” John Pistole, who leads the agency, said in an interview today at Bloomberg’s office in Washington. The $2.50-a-passenger fee now added to ticket prices is “obviously a significant source of revenue for providing security services. That is one of those strong possibilities.”

Transportation security officials are seeking ways to raise revenue after expediting deployment of full-body scanners at U.S. airports. The agency acted after a 23-year-old Nigerian man attempted to ignite explosives in his underwear on a Detroit- bound flight on Christmas Day last year.

President Barack Obama’s Department of Homeland Security last year proposed increasing the security fee on tickets by $1 annually for three years, starting in fiscal 2012. Airline industry groups opposed the move, and Congress never acted on it. Pistole said it was premature to discuss specifics of an increase the administration may seek from Congress in February.

Carrier Opposition

U.S. carriers would again oppose raising the fee, said David Castelveter, a spokesman for the Air Transport Association, a Washington-based trade group whose members include Delta Air Lines Inc. and AMR Corp.’s American Airlines.

“Aviation security should be a government-funded responsibility, not one imposed on airlines and passengers,” Castelveter said in an interview.

Travelers and groups such as the Electronic Privacy Information Center, a Washington-based civil-liberties organization, have voiced privacy concerns about use of the scanners and pat-down body searches. The two security measures have drawn more attention since the Oct. 29 discovery of an air-cargo bomb plot.

Pistole said he hopes the agency can implement full-body scanners that show a less graphic image within a year or two. The equipment currently in use records a “high number” of false positives, he said.

“I want to make sure it works” before the scanner is placed in airports, he said.

The U.S. is providing scanners to some countries that lack the political will or budget to buy them, the TSA chief said.

Pistole said the administration is also making inroads with businesses on some security issues. In the next 30 days, the Obama administration will forge an agreement with air-cargo industry officials to send lists describing the contents of packages to U.S. security officials earlier than the current requirement, which is four hours prior to landing, he said.

“I’m hoping we would have something worked out with industry in terms of what’s practical and what makes sense from a risk assessment for us,” Pistole said.

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