AUSTIN (KXAN) — Austin-Bergstrom International Airport requested more supplemental Transportation Security Officers (TSOs) due to “unprecedented growth” the airport has seen in recent months.
AUS Executive Director Jacqueline Yaft wrote a letter to Transportation Security Administration Administrator David P. Pekoske on March 3 asking for more supplemental TSOs — for a total of 100. This was before the airport saw long passenger lines due to a few large-scale events the city hosted.
The airport already received 40 supplemental TSOs in October 2021, Yaft wrote in the letter, but said their term expired in March, when some airlines added 30 new daily flights at AUS. She also asked for the terms of those current supplemental TSOs to be extended.
Texas spokesperson for the TSA Patricia Mancha told KXAN Monday like other busy airports, the agency can bring in additional staffing to Austin when requested by the airport’s federal coordinating officer.
“For the reasons set forth below, as well as the current passenger forecast, we are concerned the current levels of staffing are not going to be adequate to meet the needs of the Airport and Central Texas travelers,” Yaft wrote.
Here’s a full list of what AUS leadership asked for from the TSA:
- Extend the end date of the current supplemental TSOs at AUS.
- Increase the current number of supplemental TSOs to a total of 100 supplemental TSOs.
- Provide additional K-9 canine teams from other airports to expedite screening.
- Upgrade the current AT x-ray technology to CT technology.
KXAN reached out to the TSA on Tuesday for comment on Yaft’s letter and whether her requests were met. The agency responded:
“TSA has held several hiring events late last year and earlier this year. We continue to hire transportation security officers and this week a group of trainees has been training at AUS airport. As far as correspondence with TSA Administrator Pekoske, he will communicate and respond to the individuals who have contacted him directly.”
A little over a week ago, AUS saw passenger lines that wrapped around outside the entrance. The city had just seen two major events end — the NASCAR Cup Series and Dell Technologies Match Play — which a TSA spokesperson said is likely to have contributed to the influx in flyers.
Around the same time, the airport also issued a jet fuel shortage alert — the second one in the month of March. That’s when AUS drops below a two-day supply of fuel.
“To be a strong, international city, we need to assure that people that are coming and going from our city can do so without the kind of outrageous inconvenience that I saw,” U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett (D-Austin) said.
Yaft admitted in her letter limited staffing levels “caused negative impacts to customer experience,” and the capacity of the airport was stressed, “specifically at [its] security checkpoints” — even before the major events took place.
“Unfortunately, long lines that stretch through the terminal and even to curbside on peak days has become a normal occurrence at AUS, resulting in decreased passenger satisfaction as well as creating the potential soft targets,” Yaft wrote. “Passengers missing flights due to security screening lines is an issue at the present time.”
The chair of the city’s Airport Advisory Commission, Eugene Sepulveda, wrote in a series of tweets last week TSA is “seriously understaffed” and “unable to pay a competitive wage.”
“Agents are refusing to move to Austin [and] are resigning,” Sepulveda wrote.
The TSA is currently looking to fill part-time and full-time officer positions at Austin-Bergstrom, according to its jobs website. Part-time pay starts at just under $20 per hour with full-time salaries beginning at around $41,000 per year.
Concerns with Customs and Border Patrol staffing
Yaft wrote AUS leadership fears these problems will only get worse as spring/summer airline schedules kick into gear.
In a second letter on Friday, she also contacted the Director of Field Operations Judson Murdock for U.S. Customs and Board Protection. She said, “while the Airport’s international traffic has grown exponentially, we are highly concerned that the allocation of Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) staffing has not kept pace.”
Yaft also requested from CBP “a minimum of 15 more CBP officers to support the demand for increased international air service.”
Late last month, new nonstop flights to Amsterdam launched from AUS, with those routes scheduled to occur three times a week. Not only that, Lufthansa will fly to Frankfurt, Germany starting April 8, and Air Canada will fly to Vancouver, Canada, beginning June 1. These are just a few destinations added to Austin-Bergstrom’s international roster.
“This summer, AUS will have 16 daily international arrivals, up from 6 in the same month in 2019, and is expected to process the additional international flights with the same number of CBP Officers (13 officers allocated to AUS). For comparison, San Antonio International Airport has 24 CBP officers and is currently processing 10 nonstop international daily arrivals from Mexico during peak days,” Yaft explained.
Additionally, Yaft wrote in her letter to CBP by June of this year, the airport will have 290 daily departures, “up from 215 in the same month in 2019.” She said 2019 was previously the airport’s busiest year on record, with 17.3 million passengers flying through AUS.
Latest projections, according to Yaft, show the airport could shatter that number, with the potential to serve over 20 million passengers this year.