PhotoA study finds the Transportation Security Administration could save money and speed up security lines by eliminating the $85 fee it now charges frequent travelers for the TSA PreCheck program.

"This is an easy case where spending some money will save the federal government more money," Sheldon H. Jacobson, a computer seience professor at the University of Illinois, said. "There is a transition period - the savings are realized over the first five years, and then in perpetuity. So if the federal government is looking for a way to save money, giving TSA PreCheck at no cost to high-volume, high-value fliers makes sense."

The study by Jacobson and graduate students Arash Khatabi and Ge Yu calculated the cost of extensive screening compared with expedited screening in terms of workforce labor hours and equipment. They found that costs saved by frequent travelers using expedited security exceeded the cost of waiving their enrollment fees for PreCheck.

The study looked at different scenarios and found that the average travel frequency of those enrolling would have to be six round trips, or 12 screenings a year.

Cost savings

"We only look at the direct cost savings in labor and equipment. We don't even talk about the savings in time of the passengers who would no longer have to wait hours in line," Jacobson said. "That could add tens or hundreds of millions of dollars a year, which would be a bonus to the economy. More people could decide to fly, because of the time and cost savings."

The benefits would extend beyond the cost, though. According to Jacobson, an expert in aviation security, submitting every passenger to heightened security actually has the adverse affect of making air travel less safe by diluting resources that should be focused on high-risk, unknown passengers. TSA PreCheck reduces the number of unknowns by pre-screening passengers.

The problem with PreCheck is that enrollment has lagged far behind the projected numbers. Jacobson said waiving the fee might boost enrollment to more effective levels.

"The strength of PreCheck is the background check. It's not the item that we're trying to stop, it's the person with ill intent who we're trying to stop," Jacobson said. "PreCheck vets people and says, 'These people are not likely to be a problem to the air system.' They make sure you are who you say you are, and that your background shows no evidence that you are going to cause a problem."

The study was published in the Journal of Transportation Security.

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