TSA bill aims to return air service to Klamath

City of Klamath Falls officials and community leaders are hopeful a bill introduced Thursday by a congressional delegation will bring passenger screening services back to the Klamath Falls airport.

The bill, introduced by Oregon Sens. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., and Ron Wyden, D-Ore., and Reps. Greg Walden, R-Ore., and Peter DeFazio, D-Ore., would require the federal Transportation Security Administration to return screening services to Crater Lake-Klamath Regional Airport and other airports in similar situations.

The bipartisan bill is called Treating Small Airports with Fairness Act or TSA Fairness Act.

“They’ve been doing the heavy lifting on their end,” Klamath Falls City Manager Nathan Cherpeski told the Herald and News. “Ultimate solution is to get TSA back here just so we can operate on the same playing field as everybody else.

“Our hope is that the bill will pass,” Cherpeski added.

SkyWest left Klamath Falls in June 2014. Alaska-based PenAir committed to offer commercial air services in Klamath Falls last fall on the condition that TSA screening services could be provided. TSA has thus far refused to restart screening services at the airport, citing costs.

Merkley, Wyden, Walden and DeFazio all weighed in on the bill in a news release.

“The Crater Lake-Klamath Regional Airport is a critical transportation link for the region, and it’s unacceptable for bureaucrats 3,000 miles away in D.C. to stand in the way of restoring commercial service,” Merkley said.

“It’s time for TSA to restore screening services in Klamath Falls and ensure that local residents, businesses and Kingsley Field have the air travel options that are so essential in today’s interconnected economy.”

TSA previously had engaged in discussions of ‘reverse’ screening services through Portland International Airport after telling Klamath Falls in early November they wouldn’t be returning to the basin.

The reverse screening option would allow passengers to fly from Klamath Falls with some form of minimal screening but would have required passengers to be re-screened by TSA agents upon landing in Portland.

Airport director John Barsalou emphasized that no option for screening services, including reverse screening, is off the table at this point.

While an option, reverse screening has raised questions by some who frequently use commercial service, such as some business owners, according to Chip Massie, chamber director.

“The concept of reverse screening presents a set of challenges that give people pause,” Massie said.

Barsalou and Massie both emphasized the desired route to a return in commercial air service is through TSA screening services here.

“We’ve got a lot of work to do,” Barsalou said. “We’ve got to reach out to our partners in other states to garner national support.”

The TSA Fairness Act would require the federal agency to offer service to entities that lost service after Jan. 1, 2013, and that also have a guaranteed commercial airliner poised to resume service within one year, according to a news release.

“Since TSA won’t restore screening to Klamath Falls on its own, Congress needs to pass a new law forcing them to do so,” Walden said in a statement.

“Returning commercial air service would give greater flexibility to residents, tourists, and business travelers, and it would help grow jobs in rural communities in Klamath County and across the region. I’m proud that this bill will help accomplish that, and I look forward to moving it through the U.S. House.”

Wyden shared similar sentiments.

“Oregonians who live in and around Klamath Falls should be able to count on TSA to work for them just as it does for larger cities,” Wyden said. “Our state’s rural economy depends heavily on the viability of its local airports and our bipartisan bill would require TSA to be a better partner in helping ensure essential connections for rural communities.”

The bipartisan bill includes as sponsors: Sens. John Barrasso, R-Wyo., Mike Enzi, R-Wyo., Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, and Reps. Cynthia Lummis, R-Wyo., Will Hurd, R-Texas, and Derek Kilmer, D-Wash.

A bill with diverse sponsorship may raise more discussion and gain more traction, according to Massie.

He would like to see even more co-sponsors for the bill, and may arrange visits with stakeholders at the nation’s capital during a March visit to Washington, D.C.

“Thank goodness that we have folks like that working on our side,” Massie said.