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Frequent travelers often criticize TSA PreCheck as unhelpful and mismanaged, but a new study from the Centre For Infrastructure Performance and Reliability (CIPAR) suggests that the program is both a benefit to passengers and a deterrent to terrorism.
The study, which was performed in collaboration between The University of Newcastle in Australia and Ohio State University, used reliability and risk analysis to evaluate 21 layers of standard aviation security against the risk of a lone-wolf or terrorist organization-supported threat. Alone, standard TSA security measures were calculated to reduce the risk of an aircraft cabin-based attack by over 98%. With PreCheck in full force, that risk reduction largely increased another percentage point up to 99%.
The additional risk reduction provided by PreCheck ostensibly comes through supplemental screening that passengers face when applying for the program balanced with factors such as randomly included and excluded passengers from expedited screening.
To make the calculation, factors such as the percentage of flight air marshals (FAMs) per flight (estimated at only 5%) and the difficulty of independently building an IED were considered, while an additional swath of forced assumptions were made — including that one in every 100 million passengers is highly likely to be a terrorist. By scaling each variable from the highest to the lowest risk scenarios, the study concluded that at best, PreCheck lowers the risk of an attack by 1% while at worst, it only increases the risk by 0.1%.
Interestingly, the study also found that the practice of including random passengers from the security checkpoint pool in PreCheck lines (Managed Inclusion) did not affect the risk of an attack, however it did provide an economic benefit. In general, PreCheck provides the TSA an annual cost savings of $110 million over standard screening thanks to faster lines and fewer agents required to staff them. By using managed inclusion on 10% of standard passengers, CIPAR calculated that the agency can potentially save another $11 million annually.
Past the economic and security benefits of PreCheck, the study makes sure to highlight the tangible value to passengers. Among the benefits, it points out that PreCheck boosts business traveler satisfaction by 12% while cutting wait times precipitously in a handful of sample airports. By delivering passengers through security faster, airlines are also able to reap the financial benefit of fewer rebookings and cleaner operations — to the tune of $2 billion in added annual revenue.
The conclusions appear to be a win-win for both the TSA with its heavily scrutinized operating budget and time-strapped passengers keen on expediting security. Based on the results, the TSA could easily justify expanding the PreCheck program further.
Full results from the study are available for free from the University of Newcaste’s hosted site.