How Is TSA Ensuring Flights from Cuba Are Secure?

Photo showing Transportation Security Administration Inspectors preparing to inspect an aircraft at Frank Pais Airport in Holguin, CubaIt wasn’t long ago that the only way to fly to Cuba from the United States was via a private plane or a chartered flight.

However, in August 2016, the first scheduled commercial flight in over 50 years made the trip and new agreements allowed daily scheduled flights between the two countries.

So, how does the Transportation Security Administration ensure the security of U.S.-bound aircraft from Cuba? Today’s WatchBlog explores our recent report on what TSA found in Cuba.

Why Does TSA Assess Foreign Airports and Carriers?

As part of its mission to ensure the security of the U.S. civil aviation system, TSA assesses security at foreign airports to which U.S. carriers fly or from where U.S.-bound flights depart, and inspects carriers. TSA performs assessments and inspections at 9 airports across Cuba.

Figure 1: Map of Cuban Airports with U.S.-bound Flights

During these assessments and inspections, TSA looks at issues such as:

  • who has access to secured areas of the airport and how that access is controlled,
  • checked baggage screening,
  • passenger screening, and
  • whether the proper signs and notifications to travelers are displayed at the airport.

Photo showing Transportation Security Administration Inspectors preparing to inspect an aircraft at Frank Pais Airport in Holguin, Cuba

TSA has a range of mechanisms available for addressing any deficiency it may find. For example, an inspector may recommend corrective actions for the airport operator or air carrier. TSA then follows up to see if the deficiency has been resolved.

Figure 3: Example of Bilingual Signage at a Cuban Airport Listing Prohibited Items

What has TSA found?

TSA found mixed levels of compliance with standards and recommended practices at Cuban airports during fiscal years 2012 through 2017. While several Cuban airports were fully compliant, others fell short on one or two of the standards and recommended practices. For example, inspectors found a perimeter fence that was in need of repair and another that was missing barbed wire.

TSA found that more than two-thirds of air carriers it inspected in fiscal years 2016 and 2017 had fully implemented all security requirements. In less than one-third of inspections, the carriers didn’t implement all of the requirements, including things like failing to notify passengers that their baggage is subject to search, as well as inadequate aircraft searches. In each of these cases air carriers took corrective actions.

To find out more, check out the full report.


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