AUSTIN, Texas — U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett said on Friday, April 8, that 15 more federal Transportation Security Administration (TSA) agents will be deployed to the Austin-Bergstrom International Airport (AUS) "soon," bringing the total to 50. The TSA will also double the number of K9 teams at AUS and add a 15% retention bonus for current AUS screening officers.
The TSA confirmed to KVUE that it is also sending a Scheduling Optimization team to AUS to make sure scheduling and checkpoint design principles are efficient. The TSA said additional K9 teams will give "the ability to move screening assets quickly between multiple checkpoints and terminals."
These updates from Doggett and the TSA come after Doggett asked federal officials to expedite a request from the Austin airport's director to increase the number of agents as the facility contends with an ongoing passenger surge.
"TSA leadership has confirmed additional staffing and canine resources to be deployed to Austin-Bergstrom International Airport," an airport spokesperson said Friday. "The Department of Aviation is grateful for the continued collaboration and support from our TSA partners as we work together on the shared goal of improving the AUS passenger experience."
Airport Director Jacqueline Yaft said the airport needs at least 100 more agents from the federal TSA and K-9 units because of an unprecedented passenger volume, according to a letter obtained by the KVUE Defenders and Senior Reporter Tony Plohetski. The letter was sent to the top TSA official on March 3. She also asked that the airport be allowed to retain about 40 agents who were sent to Austin from October to March.
In a separate letter, Yaft asked U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) for at least 15 more agents to help screen passengers arriving from international flights. She said that gridlock has become so bad that passengers flying into Austin from abroad sometimes must be held on flights to allow lines to subside at screening facilities.
Neither agency responded to requests for comment on Tuesday, April 5.
Yaft disclosed multiple concerns about current conditions at the airport, saying that they have resulted in missed flights and damage to the city's international image. However, she also said she is concerned about creating terrorist "soft targets" by having passengers spill onto the curb outside while awaiting TSA screening.
"Unfortunately, long lines that stretch through the terminal and even to the curbside peak days have become a normal occurrence at AUS," she wrote. "We fear these issues will only get worse as the spring and summer airline schedules increase passenger demand."
On Tuesday, Doggett sent two letters to the TSA and CBP, asking them to urgently follow up on Austin's request.
“Austin’s status as an international city supporting world-class endeavors and worldwide visitors is being held hostage by its airport’s inability to access TSA support,” Doggett wrote. “Without the support of TSA staffing, AUS’s efforts fall short.”
Doggett told KVUE Tuesday that he has not yet received a response from either agency.
The airport has seen explosive growth in use in recent months. Last month, it had about 280 daily departures, up from 215 in the same month in 2019.
Yaft added that passenger traffic has already been exceeding pre-pandemic counts and is forecasted to grow higher to over 35,000 passengers per day, "exceeding our high growth pandemic recovery scenarios."
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