Friday, January 30, 2009

DHS Security Checks Proposed for Private Jets

Posted by Travel Sentry


The absence of security standards for private planes leaves a gaping hole in national security. Unlike commercial airliners, private planes have gotten off easily, especially for international flights. Custom regulations apply to international passengers and crews but there is no system in place for security checks – until now.

The Department of Homeland Security has proposed new regulations that would require operators of international private plane flights to and from the U.S. to electronically provide lists of passengers and crew at least an hour before departure. Also proposed is limitations on what can be taken on board.

The new rules would cover planes weighing more than 12,500 pounds, which would include most jets.

“Increasingly, we have to look at general aviation as a threat vector, not because of a specific threat, but simply because the difference between security in commercial aviation and security in general aviation has grown and that difference creates a vulnerability,” Homeland Secretary Michael Chertoff said last fall.

Resistance to the proposed regulations seems to be based on privacy issues. The comings and goings of the occupants of private jets has until now been able to travel “under the radar.” Which of course is the problem. The National Business Aviation Association–the lobbying group for the private jet industry–says that checking passenger names against the terrorist list could be an intrusion of privacy and that the information would not be secure. It also says the rules are “overly broad,” expensive and cumbersome.

“Companies that use jets add that if flight information leaks out, their secret business plans and the stealthy movement of their executives could get out. The real issue here is time and privacy. People take private jets for two reasons: to save time and the hassle of airport screening and delays, and to be able to travel, at any time, without the public knowing where they are going.” Wall Street Journal

This seems like a weak argument against the potential for a threatening incident against U.S. security. It hardly seems a sacrifice to submit to a quick computer check and cargo review. And the clientele certainly has a crew that could easily handle a security check.

At least there will be fewer fliers in private planes with the current global economy in turmoil. Fewer people to complain. I seriously doubt that there will be a public outcry of “Foul!” over this new infringement upon the wealthy.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

A New Threshold for Airline Advertising

Posted by Travel Sentry


It looks like I have lost my bet. Which was, what would be the next add-on to help the airlines generate additional revenue. They have the food charges and checked bag charges pretty well covered, at least for domestic economy class. Many airlines are plastering the tray tables and overhead bins with advertisements. Now certain seats are coming with a premium. My bet for the next outrage was charging for the toilet.

But I was wrong and lost my bet. Apparently the next place to garner a few extra bucks is slapping advertising on the flight attendants. You heard me. The flight attendants … I assume the intent is to actually put the ads on the uniforms and not tattoos, since that after all might get a little pricey.

The L.A. Times reports, “It’s the next thing,” said Terry Trippler, an aviation consultant who runs the travel advisory website tripplertravel.com. “I could picture an airplane looking like a NASCAR,” racing stock cars that are often laden with sponsors’ logos. “It’s not out of the question that we may one day see a Target logo on the nose.”

If the price is right.

Actually, the flight attendant as advertising medium has not caught on like wildfire. One of the advertising trend setters, Skybus Airlines, which went out of business this year, sold space on its flight attendants’ uniforms. It also was one of the first to place an ad on the outside of the plane.

One of the perks of being a fight attendant used to be the very cool, classy uniforms. When a group of flight attendants walked through the airport en masse heads would turn to admire the view. Looks like even that point of elegance in the skies is changing. Call me crazy, but I don't think the flight attendants signed up for double duty as a walking billboard.

The in-cabin advertising trend was slow to catch on in the U.S. until US Airways began placing ads on tray tables and selling space on cocktail napkins. The Arizona-based airline said the "so-called onboard ancillary ads now generate about $20 million a year."

Spirit is all about advertising within the cabin. Executives said few passengers had complained so far about being inundated with advertising. Passengers flying Spirit are going for the low fares and this is a way for the airlines of offset expenses to maintain the fares.

The WSJ/Middle Seat Blog reports: The union for the Spirit flight attendants put out a press release saying “management introduced a proposal which would force Spirit flight attendants to wear inflight aprons adorned with an alcoholic beverage logo.” Needless to say, it did not go over with the crew.

Some of the larger carriers have abstained from wallpapering the cabin with marketing. American Airlines and United Airlines draw the line – for now. Many airlines are afraid of a passenger backlash if the interior is trashed up with ads for, say, Budweiser. No offense Budweiser. Really.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Sky, the Border Collie, is Southwest Florida's Newest Air Defense System

Posted by Travel Sentry

After the "Miracle on the Hudson" landing by U.S. Airways Flight 1549, there has naturally been a great deal of interest on the subject of bird strike dangers at airports. The problem has led to simple solutions, like Sky the border collie, to sophisticated radar systems, to the state-of-the-art GE90-115B jet engine that repels bird strikes by virtue of the blade design.

Because of the heightened interest I republish below a post from last year about the hero of the Southwest Florida International Airport ...

Sky, a year-old border collie, gets ready to scare birds off the runway at the Southwest International Airport in Fort Myers, Fla. Photo by Marc Beaudin, The (Ft. Myers, Fla.) News-Press

If you have ever owned a border collie, you know that nothing would make that breed happier than to have the job of keeping birds off the runways at the local airport. Oh glorious day! One lucky border collie by the name of Sky is that lucky dog and at the tender age of one, she recently landed the job at Southwest Florida International Airport.

USA Today reports on Sky’s progress keeping the birds and the airplanes separated. "She's not aggressive at all, but to the birds, she looks like a predator — a wolf or a coyote," said James Hess, Southwest’s airport operations agent and Sky's handler.

Big birds or flocks of birds and airplanes can be a dangerous combination and a collision can disable wing tips, dent the fuselage, foul the motor or break windshields. The National Audubon Society says that bird migrations create the biggest problems for airports.

Some 20 airports nationwide are using dogs to control wildlife and the trained dogs are supplied by several specialty kennels. The costs of training and maintaining collie teams can be steep. One trained dog and handler from a private service can cost $80,000 to $100,000 annually, reports USA Today.

Border collies — trained to adapt their natural herding instincts to stalking and chasing away birds — are among many non-lethal means airports have to deter wildlife strikes.

“Stakes are high for keeping birds at bay. In June, the Federal Aviation Administration released a report on wildlife strikes to aircraft between 1990 and 2007.” The findings:

• More than 82,000 aircraft-animal collisions were reported to the FAA, with birds involved 97% of the time.

• Eight wildlife strikes caused 11 human deaths. "In most cases, the plane was damaged, and pilots lost control of the aircraft," said Sandra Wright, manager of the FAA's bird/wildlife strike database.

• Reported losses from bird strikes alone totaled $291.1 million and 362,073 hours in aircraft down time.

Click here to see the video of Sky and her handler.


Monday, January 26, 2009

Airline Pull-Out Devastates Small Communities

Posted by Travel Sentry


If you want to go to Santa Fe, New Mexico for a long weekend, you’re going to have to work to get there. No longer can you fly directly into Santa Fe. The city that relies on tourism lost its commercial airline service over a year ago.

Santa Fe is not alone. Hot Springs, Arkansas is in the same boat without a paddle. Almost 100 small communities in 25 states lost air service over the last two years, mostly due to airline cut-backs. Government aid to airlines serving smaller communities has also been reduced. In Moses Lake, Washington, without an airline for two years, travelers have a choice of driving 180 miles to Seattle or 105 miles to Spokane — assuming they can get through roads occasionally closed by snow.

These cities suffer a double whammy. Not only do the economies suffer from the lack of transportation options but the overall economic downturn kicked them when they were already down.
When a city loses commercial air service — finding itself hundreds of miles from the closest airport — it gives up tourist dollars, airport revenue and income that otherwise would spread to Main Street. because airplanes connect businesses with customers, partners, suppliers and consultants, remote communities without service are less likely to attract or retain businesses — be they local entrepreneurs or offshoots of big corporations — that view wasted time and wasted money with equal disdain. New York Times
Without service, any business that relies on air access would probably be forced to relocate. There is no precedence prior to this recession as to how this will effect these cities’ economies long term. There is a chance that some locations will regain air service after the recession but at higher prices and fewer flights.

Lost revenue from the municipal airports is also an economic reality painful to city coffers. For instance, the Santa Fe Municipal Airport contributed about $54 million a year to the city. The overall negative impact goes even much further.

Small markets represent more than 80 percent of air fields in the U.S. but they transport fewer than 11 percent of passengers. You do the math. Of course airlines had to make responsible business decisions.

When a community loses commercial air service, it loses “bragging rights as a convenient business base.” Think about an outlying western town in the 1880s losing its stagecoach service. It’s like losing the connection to the outside world.

New York Times

Friday, January 23, 2009

GE Jet Engine Technology Guards Against Bird Strikes

Posted by Travel Sentry

GE technology created the 145,000 horsepower 90-115B, the world's largest and most powerful jet engine. It's the ultimate lean power machine and as this video demonstrates, the design is capable of deflecting bird strikes, the bane of airports and airliners. The dangerous collision of bird, man and machine that brought down U.S. Airways Flight 1549 into the Hudson River, is now a potential disaster that can be avoided, with the right engine.


The GE 90 has achieved the 10 million flight hour milestone. Tom Wygle, general manager of the GE90 Program said. "The GE90 engine has surpassed our expectations for performance and reliability, and we look forward to more continued success in the years ahead."

"In 1995, the first GE90 engine entered service with British Airways and was the first commercial engine to use composite fan blades. Two years later, GE introduced a growth version of the engine, capable of achieving up to 90,000 lbs. of thrust. The GE90-94B entered service in 2000 with advanced 3-D aerodynamic design in the high pressure compressor."

The GE90-115B powers the Boeing 777-200LR, -300ER and Freight aircraft.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Farewell - Changing of the Guard at TSA

Posted by Travel Sentry

Kip Hawley was nominated by President Bush to be Administrator of the Transportation Security Administration on May 6, 2005. With the ushering in of the Obama administration, many Bush appointments, of which Kip is one, are passing through the Republican exits.

Kip is responsible for opening the dialogue between the public and TSA by starting a blog called The Evolution of Security. And it is a real blog, not an infomercial. “TSA's intent was to get feedback from the public and engage with them on the issues that they presented. We have learned a great deal from those of you who have posted and I am grateful for your engagement with us.” says Kip. And engage they did.

I've read every blog and many of the public responses. They deal head-on with the good, the bad and the very ugly and there was a great deal of angst, particularly when the blog began about a year ago.

Kip says that one popular theme is that TSA’s security is "intellect-free" with some of the public doubting there is a threat. Other favorite public comment topics include perceived shortcomings and other opinions to be filed under miscellaneous because they defy common sense.

There are several programs underway now to retrain the entire TSA staff to work smarter. “It is all about being smart about how we do our security job and how to think in terms of identifying real - and sophisticated - threats and less about running through a checklist.”

Next, two-thirds of new scanners are in place that can detect dangerous liquids which will eliminate the confusing liquids carry-on rule. And very interesting is the efforts to make the security screening check points a calmer, quiet, even pleasant area. The premise is that it's easier to target a nervous terrorist in calm surroundings as they will be the only ones uneasy.

And Kip’s final words of wisdom …

"While this forum will continue to hear from our vigorous critics, I hope that in addition to the words of the indefatigable Blogger Bob and his colleagues, you will see that TSA has backed them up with actions in the year that the EoS Blog has been in business.

"Our on-line presence is much clearer, deeper, and more accessible - and improvements will continue. Black Diamond, laptop bags, clearer signage, better explanations of the “why”, are all examples of actions taken by TSA that were helped by this blog discussion. You've helped us prioritize your pain points and we do, in fact, work to reduce those.

"The security needs in aviation (and surface transportation) are significant and on-going. Real security risk mitigation can only happen when all parties - including the public - are active, positive participants. The men and women of TSA are amazing in their commitment to protect you and it has been an honor to serve with them. I hope that, going forward, your personal experience with our people, bolstered by better technology and process, will bring us together in support of our common objective - untroubled transportation to our chosen destination and a safe, smooth return home. "

You know, no matter how you feel about TSA and the airport security process, you have to give these guys some credit for carring out their thankless jobs and trying to keep us safe, no matter how maddening. The TSA blog carries on the dialogue and hopefully the system will continue to evolve and become even more effective and less intrusive. Until the terrorists go away …

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Delta At Crossroads With Atlanta Airport

Posted by Travel Sentry


It has been almost 30 years since Delta Air Lines and the city of Atlanta have signed a master lease agreement for the airline's master hub at the Atlanta Airport. The current agreement is set to expire in 2010 and the hang-ups center on operation costs. Yes, it's time for a prayer meeting at the world's busiest airport.

Below is a letter from John Boatright, Delta Air Lines to Ben DeCosta, GM of Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport concerning a renewal of their partnership as Delta's home base. The letter pretty well lays out the argument from Delta's viewpoint. "Talk softly but carry a big stick..."

Click here to read the Atlanta Journal's interview with Atlanta Mayor, Shirley Franklin, from the nation's capital this weekend. Atlanta's Mayor is optimistic that about the Atlanta-Delta partnership. "Well, the question really is, can Atlanta and Georgia afford not to have a successful airport? I think the answer to that question is no. And then you back up to what is the relationship we need in order for both to flourish and prosper," said Mayor Franklin.

I'm ready to place my bet on the final outcome sans details. Here's the letter I picked up from the Atlanta Business Chronicle:

Boatright to DeCosta:

Re: Your January 2, 2009 Letter on MHJIT VA and Lease and Use Agreements


Dear Ben:

For the last 30 years, the City of Atlanta and the surrounding metropolitan region have benefited from dynamic economic growth that has been the envy of cities around the globe. A continuing increase in annual visitors, an increase in the number of Fortune 500 companies headquartered here and a dramatic expansion of domestic and international air service are among the direct effects of continued investments by Delta and our airline competitors at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport. These investments, which have given rise to the world’s busiest airport and the region’s leading economic engine, have been driven by the confidence Delta and our peers have placed in the long-term partnership between Hartsfield-Jackson and the airlines, which is embodied by long-term, cost-competitive airfield and terminal use and lease agreements.

In 2010, however, the airlines’ long-standing agreements will expire – placing in question the future investments that Delta and our peers will be willing to make in Atlanta. Given the airport’s more than $23 billion annual economic impact and its direct and indirect employment of nearly 400,000 people, we believe it is in everyone’s interest to extend the agreements in a manner that maintains Hartsfield-Jackson’s low costs and strengthens key principles of partnership between the City and the airlines championed long ago by Mayors Hartsfield and Jackson.

Since October 2007, Delta and other airlines have made repeated requests of the Department of Aviation to advance long-term airport lease negotiations – all to no avail. In fact, at one point in 2007, twice-monthly negotiating sessions were agreed upon but rarely occurred due to airport management’s failure to make addressing such matters a priority. Your January 2, 2009 letter on this issue continues to leave us frustrated and concerned with the lack of progress.

Delta and our airline peers are prepared to commit to another 30-year lease utilizing a residual rate methodology that limits the cost per enplanement and improves upon processes for agreeing on major capital expenditures and operating costs. We believe this is the best way to ensure Hartsfield-Jackson protects its important competitive cost advantage over other hub airports with which it must compete.

In a business where airports are our factories, a cost escalation from $5 to $10 per enplanement – as proposed by the latest version of the airport’s capital improvement plan – would make it unlikely that we could continue to grow and invest profitably at Hartsfield Jackson. With approximately two-thirds of Atlanta’s traffic able to be connected over other hubs (i.e. Memphis, Cincinnati or Detroit) – and the difficult economic environment facing our industry – it is more important than ever that Hartsfield-Jackson’s unit costs remain competitive with those of other hub airports competing for the same connecting traffic. In fact, our estimates show that the loss of connecting traffic routed through Atlanta could jeopardize billions of dollars in annual economic benefits and could translate into higher ticket prices and service reductions for consumers who fly locally from Hartsfield-Jackson.

Your January 2 letter also expresses your disappointment that construction on the Maynard Holbrook Jackson Jr. International Terminal (MHJIT) may have to be halted unless we reach agreement on a memorandum of understanding (MOU) and revised budget for the project. Delta – in cooperation with the other airlines – has done everything possible to keep construction of the MHJIT moving forward. However, we have been crystal clear that the project will not make fiscal sense if airport management proceeds with its proposed new capital improvement program (including the MHJIT) that would double our unit costs in Atlanta by 2016 and includes substantial unnecessary costs. While we appreciate your recent efforts to work with us to eliminate unnecessary MHJIT project costs in the short term, our position remains that we must understand our long-term financial future at Hartsfield-Jackson before we can commit to major capital investments, particularly those that will be completed after the airline use and lease agreements expire.

Delta’s clear preference is to see work on the MHJIT proceed as we believe that together we can negotiate a MOU for extended agreements on an expedited timetable and, in a matter of weeks, resolve major lease and use agreement business principles, including those related to the MHJIT. It will take all of us making the negotiations a top priority, but Delta believes Atlanta’s future is important enough for the parties to do whatever it takes to make that happen. As has been the case for well over a year, we and the other airlines stand ready do everything possible to accomplish the objectives outlined herein in an expeditious manner.

Sincerely,
John W. Boatright
Vice President – Corporate Real Estate

Monday, January 19, 2009

Northwest 747 Gets Dressed in Delta Blues

Lest you think I would ask you to watch paint dry (which I would not do, at least in real time) ... watch the three and a half minute video below, a high-speed version of the metamorphosis of a Northwest Boeing 747 into a Delta "Jumbo Jet" in dress blues.



The WSJ Middle Seat writes, "the freshly painted Delta 747-400 marks the first time since 1977 that Delta has flown one of these birds. A Delta spokesman told us the jet will be used on routes between the U.S. and Asia, and within Asia from Tokyo. 'In the coming weeks it could be spotted on any of the following routes: Detroit-Osaka; Detroit-Nagoya; Detroit-Tokyo; Hong Kong-Tokyo; Honolulu-Tokyo; Osaka-Taipei; Los Angeles-Tokyo; Manila-Nagoya; Manila-Tokyo; Minneapolis-St.Paul-Tokyo; and Tokyo-Shanghai,' he wrote in an e-mail."

Friday, January 16, 2009

WSJ: Miracle on the Hudson

Posted by Travel Sentry

From the WSJ: REUTERS/Eric Thayer

The American public is often accused of loving a disaster. But yesterday, when a disaster was barely diverted and no lives were lost, every American was cheering the miracle on the Hudson.

The U.S. Airways flight 1549 that landed in the Hudson yesterday afternoon unfolded as a miracle as the pilots, the crew and the passengers turned into heroes. And the rescuers came from everywhere to assist the heroes and became heroes themselves. An awesome scene.

It was an amazing thing to watch in real time. For those of you who didn't get enough of a good thing, or missed the whole story, here are some links from the Wall Street Journal that includes great photos, personal accounts, podcasts of survivors, and video:

U.S. Airways Crash: FAA's Preliminary Report

U.S. Airways Crash: Plane Won't Be Moved Today

Water Landings: A Brief List of Ditched Flights

Meet Chesley ‘Sully’ Sullenberger: Pilot of US Airways Flight 1549

US Airways Crash Pilot “Held his Cool,” According to Colleague

US Airways Splashdown in New York: Pictures

US Airways Hudson Crash: How to Survive a Plane Crash

US Airways Crash: The Hazards Of Sharing The Skies With Birds

US Airways Crash: Ditching Over the Hudson Was the Right Move

Thursday, January 15, 2009

George Clooney Greets TSA Screeners - Prepping for New Movie?

Posted by Travel Sentry


Washington, D.C, January 14. Image via Splash.

A George Clooney sighting is news no matter where or when he shows. Wednesday he was seen going through security in Washington D.C. exchanging warm greetings with the TSA staffers. Is he there for the Ignauguration? To visit his father? To prepare for his new movie entitled "Up In the Air"?

Clooney's new big-budget film, "Up In the Air", will be shot in St. Louis and production crews are already in full swing, preparing before shooting begins. AP describes the story line, "Clooney will play a constantly traveling, unapologetic corporate downsizer. Variety reports that as the Clooney character's life falls apart, he is on a mission to collect 1 million frequent flyer miles."

Everyone reading this blog knows some similar form of this "frequent flyer monster" who is obsessed with collecting miles, guarding his stash as closely as his bank account. To be perfectly honest, this movie would be more germain pre-2001 (when the book was written). With airlines now in jeopardy and having performed hatchet jobs on frequent flyer programs, the game is not quite the sport it once was. But for all the travel players, this should be a familiar story.

The movie is based on a novel of the same name by Walter Kirn.

Some filming will also be done in Miami and Las Vegas, but the bulk of shooting will be in St. Louis. Part of the movie may be filmed at the closed D concourse at Lambert-St. Louis International Airport. It would be the third film shot there since last year. "The Lucky Ones" included scenes at Lambert in 2007. And in May, the Matt Damon movie "The Informant" included scenes shot at the airport.

Thanks to WSJ Middle Seat Blog

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

The Forensic Traveler - Tracking Those In the Know

Posted by Travel Sentry



If you’re relying on flight schedule information posted on the airport displays, rest assured you are not getting the real skinny on arrival and departure times. This is pretty frustrating to contemplate when one in four domestic flights experiences delays on either, and sometimes both, end of the flight.

According to the New York Times, this equates to some 400,000 passengers sitting captive at gates or on the tarmac every day. And their entire attention is focused on updates from the airline on departure or arrival times.
“They’re very poor at getting on the intercom and saying, ‘Here’s our situation,’ ” said Jennifer Shirkani, owner of a management consulting business in Manchester, N.H., who flies about 100,000 miles a year. “In some cases, there’s not even a crew member at the gate until two minutes before the scheduled boarding time. So we’re really on our own to find out what’s going on.” NYT

So who is the mysterious keeper of the correct and useful information concerning your flight delays? As you have already learned through experience no doubt, you are wasting your time asking a gate agent or an airline hot line if you are expecting true and correct time tables.

Passengers are at the bottom of the airline food chain when it comes to being in the know. The communication chain goes something like this: multiple computer systems, gate agents, pilots, flight dispatchers, air traffic controllers, and other airline and Federal Aviation Administration personnel, with updates moving along different paths simultaneously.

“During a delay, gate agents and the flight crew communicate with the airline along separate channels, and do not necessarily talk to each other. Pilots typically get more updated information because they are in direct contact with the airline’s system operations control center — essentially, the brain that keeps track of every aircraft’s schedule.”

Tackle the pilot if you want good info.

Pilots also communicate with tower personnel who are linked to the F.A.A.’s command center in Herndon, Va. That is the master system each airline connects with to determine when its planes are allowed to come and go.

Even if the flight crew shares the flight info with gate keepers, they can’t make an announcement to the passengers until it is officially in the system, because the flight crew could be wrong. “Gate agents are also reluctant to jump the gun because they dread the onslaught they will face after announcing bad news.” Understandably they don’t want to give out incorrect news.

“The crew is connected directly to the operations center, so they’re getting the latest and greatest information,” said Basil J. Barimo, vice president for operations for the Air Transport Association, an airline trade group. “The customer service agent is not directly connected, so is getting the information from airport channels.” Depending on the technology available at the gate, that may mean a radio transmission or a phone call. The airport display board may be the last to know.

The New York Times suggests that passengers may be able to get more timely information about a flight delay by checking the airline’s web site or a site like Flightstats.com. “Or they can send a text message to Google (466-453) with the flight number (AA117, for example), which will send back a text message with the latest departure and arrival information from Flightstats.”

If there is no plane at the gate, savvy travelers have learned to check the status of the incoming flight, which is often a better way of gauging how soon the plane will turn around.

“You really have to be almost a forensic traveler to know what’s going on,” said Kate Hanni, founder of the Coalition for an Airline Passengers’ Bill of Rights, an advocacy group.

“The Forensic Traveler.” Sounds like a blog site. I just looked and couldn’t find one …

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

U.S. Visa Waiver Program Requires Online Registration

Posted by Travel Sentry

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) now requires all travelers from the 35 Visa Waiver Program (VWP) countries to obtain approval through the online Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) at least 72 hours prior to traveling to the United States.

Launched in August 2008 on a voluntary basis, the ESTA registration became mandatory as of yesterday. The online process replaces the previous method of applying for a visa waiver that entailed filling out paper cards, called I-94Ws, while en route to the U.S. “The important change is that we’re automating the existing process and requiring it to be done in advance,” said Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff. “The response time is generally about four seconds.”

“We have been collecting information from visa waiver travelers for decades, and establishing a program to get that same information in advance is one enhancement that allowed us to extend the valuable benefit of visa-free travel to eight new countries in 2008,” said Chertoff of their improved efficiency in screening and U.S. entry of international travelers.

“ESTA is a web-based system that determines the preliminary eligibility of visitors to travel under the VWP prior to boarding a carrier to the United States. To date, more than 1.2 million ESTA applications have been received, and more than 99.6 percent of applicants have been approved, most within seconds.”

Despite the efforts of DHS to make travelers aware of the ESTA mandatory registration, there are still passengers from the Visa Waiver countries who are unaware. DHS is taking a reasonable approach to travelers who have not obtained the approved authorizations but, “travelers without an approved ESTA are advised, however, that they may be denied boarding, experience delayed processing, or be denied admission at a U.S. port of entry.”

Derwood Staeben, U.S. consul general in London said there is no fee for the service and the travel authorization is valid for two years. He warned that operators of some unscrupulous Web sites are charging fees for this service, which is designed to be free of charge.

Visitors may apply for travel authorization via the ESTA Web site at https://esta.cbp.dhs.gov/.

The citizens or nationals of the following countries are currently eligible to travel to the United States under the VWP: Andorra, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Brunei, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Japan, the Republic of Korea, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Monaco, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Portugal, San Marino, Singapore, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, and the United Kingdom.

For additional information on ESTA, visit www.cbp.gov/esta, and for more information on the VWP, please visit http://www.cbp.gov/xp/cgov/travel/id_visa/business_pleasure/vwp/

Sunday, January 11, 2009

TSA Coordinates Global Security Initiatives

Posted by Travel Sentry

The security of the United States against terrorist threats is not just a domestic concern, but must be a cooperative global effort. There are more than 245 daily inbound flights to the U.S. from all over the world which, without an effective security screening process at the flight origination, leaves the nation vulnerable to terrorist infiltration.

A global initiative to stem terrorist threats is top of mind for the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) who has “put a major focus on collaborating with foreign aviation authorities and sharing best practices, intelligence, technological innovations and expertise so that flights coming into the United States have the same level of security as those departing the U.S.”

In collaboration with the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the Department of State, TSA coordinates transportation security with individual countries and through major international aviation-related organizations such as,

  • Group of Eight (G8),
  • the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO),
  • and the Asia –Pacific Economic Conference (APEC).

There are 22 TSA Representatives (TSARs) deployed worldwide to serve as DHS’s “boots on the ground” working with international partners, coordinating the DHS response to terrorist threats and incidents, and conducting security assessments of TSA security specialists at more than 300 airports in more than 100 different countries. TSA’s international teams have successfully vetted 100% of airports with direct flights into the United States.

Here’s a brief overview of some of TSA’s international activities:

  • On August 1, 2008, TSA JFK Inspections and Screening coordinated security measures with Emirates Airlines to ensure the successful arrival of the first commercial A380 ‘superjumbo’ jet direct from Dubai.
  • For the 2008 Beijing Summer Olympic Games, TSA coordinated security efforts with the People’s Republic of China. This partnership began in the summer of 2007 when U.S. Federal Air Marshals hosted a training exchange with members of the Chinese Air Marshal Program at our facility in Atlantic City. From July 19 until August 24, TSA successfully coordinated security operations at China’s Joint Operation’s Center with teams deployed at airports in Beijing, Shanghai, and Hong Kong.
  • When thousands of anti-government protesters took over Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi International Airport (BKK) on November 25 of this year, TSA responded by sending a team to assess the risk associated with flights departing for the United States. The team was able to ensure the security of direct flights to the United States by December 6, allowing Americans to return home safely.
  • In a brand new 2009 initiative, TSA plans to deploy special teams of veteran security experts to various international locations to assist host nations with enhancing and sustaining local aviation security. St. Lucia will be the first nation to participate in this initiative, and TSA’s assessment team will work with the St. Lucian Ministry of Tourism and Civil Aviation to assess training needs, equipment, and aviation security legislation.