Daniel Gellert says he has a great idea, one that would make flying safer and less expensive while allowing passengers to maintain their privacy and dignity as they move through airport security.
As an added bonus, it would save the federal government billions of dollars.
The problem lies in getting someone to listen.
It isn’t as if Gellert hasn’t been trying. Gellert has discussed his idea briefly with Transportation Security Administrator chief John Pistole, in person and via e-mail. He’s sent faxes to the White House.
Gellert says federal officials aren’t particularly interested in his idea because they’re already sold on — and they’re already invested in — the high-tech, vastly expensive technologies that now serve as the last line of defense for airport security.
Gellert says these machines aren’t just wildly expensive — they don’t work, either.
The answer to commercial airline safety is simple, Gellert says. Rather than investing hundreds of millions in largely useless technology, the job should instead go to the dogs.
U.S. Patent 7,590,484: Gellert’s system improves runway traffic patterns, saving airlines millions in fuel costs — and it saves lives, too, according to the retired Sequim pilot. Graphic submitted by Daniel Gellert
Gellert, a commercial pilot with Eastern Airlines for 25 years and a certified air traffic controller, has additional bona fides in flight security. His company, Aerospace Safety and Security, holds a patent on “new runway options and modifications” that he said “prevents runway incursions and increases take-off and landing sequences.”
His pitch for improving security within the airport is simple: Rather than investing billions in new technology, the government should invest in a very old one: the miraculous olfactories of man’s best friend.
“When you walk into a kitchen, you smell stew,” he said. “But a dog smells carrots … and potatoes … and meat.” They can be trained to sniff out virtually any scent, he said, describing dogs as a much better way to locate explosives in luggage or on the person of those passing through the airport.
Gellert disdainfully refers to “TSA’s toys,” calling the current system nothing more than “security theater.” As an example, he points out that both the newfangled and the old-fangled X-ray scanners are incapable of identifying an explosive substance.
“They’re great ‘bulk detectors,’” Gellert says. “If I have a wallet or enlarged underpants, it will show that. But plastic explosives rolled out?”
Gellert said those who intend to do mischief simply can wrap themselves in a thin layer of plastic explosives. Or “you can make underwear out of explosives.”
Current machines often still require a manual passenger pat-down as a follow-up. As Gellert notes, that has led to harsh headlines for the TSA, including recent stories of the traumatic pat-downs of very small children.
He says this isn’t the first time the TSA has gotten justifiably bad press. Gellert related the story of “puffers” — walk-through devices that in 2004 the TSA called state-of-the-art devices capable of detecting traces of explosive residue on a person’s body or clothing.
In 2006, the agency pulled the devices. As a TSA official told USA Today, the machines were quickly clogged by dust and confused by humidity or jet fuel fumes.
Gellert pointed out that, using current technology, security officers at Dallas-Forth Worth International Airport this month were required to confiscate a jar of baby food and a juice box after the contents of each tested positive for trace amounts of explosives.
Airport officials later noted the packages hadn’t been tampered with and decided their tests produced a “false positive.”
Unfortunately, says Gellert, Pistole is committed to X-rays. “He’s spent hundreds of millions of dollars on machines that don’t work.”
He also pointed out that the TSA has spent another $200 million training professional watchers to walk around terminals looking for tell-tale behaviors. He regards the entire scheme as laughable. “What if (the passengers) are going to a funeral?” he asked.
“Behavioral screening is asking the right question,” he said.
“What the hell are we doing?” he asked.
The case for dogs
A well-trained dog, Gellert says, is much more effective than electronic tools and costs $7,000 as opposed to $150,000 for a puffer or a similar amount for one of the new X-ray machines.
Gellert noted that a trained dog was front and center during the recent take-down of Osama Bin Laden. “When they landed, the first guy out was a K-9 Seal,” he said.
He also noted, “There are more than 600 dogs in Iraq and Iran right now.”
A properly trained dog only needs to come within a foot or two of passengers, Geller said. In fact, a dog could simply walk past a line of passengers waiting to board. The explosives that now slip right through the existing multi-billion dollar infrastructure would be recognized and its passage onto the airplane halted, Gellert said.
And as opposed to pat-downs, children love dogs, he said.
Gellert is taking his message wherever he can. He attended a flight safety conference in California in early May and next week he’ll be at another, this one in Tel Aviv. The Israelis, he notes, have the best airport and flight security system in the world. He’s learning from the best.
He pointed out that the TSA has itself admitted there are fewer than 400,000 individuals on its consolidated “watch list.” Some 95 percent of those on the list aren’t U.S. citizens, with the vast majority currently found beyond U.S. borders.
He also called for better pilot licenses. “Amazingly, while many of the 9/11 terrorists had pilot licenses, and Congress in 2004 directed the FAA to issue licenses with pictures, fingerprints and other bio-information,” the licenses haven’t changed. He said that’s due to a “turf war between the Federal Aviation Administration and the TSA.”
Perhaps the greatest hazard of all, Gellert says, lies with “the $8 to $10 an hour” employees who work at every airport in the U.S. “Everywhere I go, people are talking about them,” Gellert said. “That’s where the danger is.”
In the meantime, Gellert is seeking $100,000 in capital to create a pilot program. To date, federal officials have been unresponsive.
The private sector may be the way to go, he said.