Effective August 20, 2009, the new Transportation Security Administration (TSA) regulations increased the maximum amount of its monetary penalties against aircraft operators and freight forwarders/indirect air carriers (IACs) for violations of the Transportation Security Regulations. TSA also made significant change to its Investigative and Enforcement Procedures in 49 CFR Part 1503.
Following the tragic events of September 11, 2001, when the United States was attacked by terrorists, the U.S. Congress and President George Bush quickly passed the Aviation and Transportation Security Act of 2001 which created the Transportation Security Administration (TSA). The primary responsibilities of the TSA was to ensure the security of passengers and cargo in air transportation. Many responsibilities formerly handled by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) were transferred to the TSA. After moving from the U.S. Department of Transportation to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, as part of the Homeland Security Act of 2002, the TSA had its first Administrator to lead the agency, and moved into its current physical headquarters office in Arlington, Virginia.
In a critical U.S. General Accountability Office report entitled “Aviation Security: Vulnerabilities and Potential Improvements for the Air Cargo System,” dated December 2002, the GAO stated:
U.S. air carriers transport billions of tons of cargo each year in both passenger planes and all-cargo planes. Typically, about one-half of the hull of each passenger aircraft is filled with cargo. As a result, any vulnerabilities in the air cargo security system potentially threaten the entire air transport system. Numerous government and industry studies have identified vulnerabilities in the air cargo system. These vulnerabilities occur in the security procedures of some air carriers and freight forwarders and in possible tampering with freight at various hand-offs that occur from the point when cargo leaves a shipper to the point when it is loaded onto an aircraft. As a result, any weaknesses in this program could create security risks.
It was a serious and urgent challenge for the TSA to correct these weaknesses.
The Transportation Security Regulations, 49 CFR Parts 1500 to 1572, were issued on July 23, 2002, and implemented the various laws that created and outlined the functions and expanded powers of the TSA. Important operational regulations are Part 1542 (Airport Security), Part 1544 (Aircraft Operator Security), Part 1546 (Foreign Air Carrier Security), and Part 1548 (Indirect Air Carrier Security) whereby the TSA sets forth all the many new and comprehensive requirements that attempt to prevent any person, luggage, provisions, or cargo getting aboard an aircraft that could cause it to crash.
What is most important for this discussion is the amended TSA regulation at 49 CFR Part 1503 (Investigative and Enforcement Procedures) whereby the TSA describes how and when it may issue a monetary civil penalty against an airline or IAC (a.k.a. “freight forwarder”) for a violation of the Transportation Security Regulations.
In the new TSA regulations, the TSA announced that certain penalties that previously were at a maximum of $25,000 per violation are now $27,500, and those that were at a maximum of $10,000 per violation are now $11,000. More importantly, the TSA announced: “TSA may assess a maximum penalty per case of $50,000 if the violation is committed by an individual or small business. TSA may assess a maximum penalty amount per case of $400,000 if the violation is committed by a person other than an individual or small business.” Those are big numbers by any count in the airline and cargo transportation business.
Often, a monetary civil penalty is issued months after the violation actually occurred. Typically a TSA Inspector visits the airline or warehouse of an IAC unannounced to verify that it is complying with all of the relevant TSA regulations. If a violation is discovered, the TSA Inspector issues a Letter of Investigation (LOI) to the alleged violator, and allows 30 days for a written response. If the response is not forthcoming or is not satisfactory to the TSA Inspector, the case is referred to an attorney for TSA in its Office of Chief Counsel. The TSA attorneys are located at all major international airports in the United States.