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Just a couple of days after Orlando International Airport (MCO) was ranked Florida’s busiest airport, beating out Miami International (MIA), Orlando airport officials plan to vote on whether or not to fire Transportation Security Administration screeners and hire private replacements.

The option is possible under TSA’s little-known Screening Partnership Program, where the agency selects a private contractor to handle airport screening. The contracted personnel follow the same security protocols as federal officers, with comparable wages and benefits.

Orlando is now the 13th busiest airport in the country, handling almost 45 million passengers in 2017. Yet its facilities have not been able to keep pace with its growth. Currently, all outbound travelers funnel through just two main security checkpoints, one of which is at full capacity in terms of space.

The airport claims that rush-hour crowding at its security checkpoints is “resulting in diminished levels of passenger service at peak operational periods,” reported the Orlando Sentinel on February 6

TSA disagrees that the federal agency is at fault, blaming the bottleneck on the airport’s lack of space instead. “We need the airport to provide space for 19 additional lanes to process people in an even more timely manner,” said Jerry Henderson, a TSA federal security director. “But even working with this extreme deficit in space, TSA’s operation at Orlando International is the most efficient TSA screening operation in the nation.”

22 other US airports already run on private security — Orlando’s other airport, Sanford International (SFB), among them. Except San Francisco International (SFO) and Kansas City (MCI), most of the other airports on the list are tiny, like Bozeman Yellowstone International Airport (BZN) in Montana, where Brian Sprenger, the director of the airport, told Marketplace that “privatizing is not about escaping TSA, but managing labor.”

This will not be Orlando’s first time to vote on privatizing security. The debate first came up three years ago, according to MCO airport director Phil Brown, although airport authorities decided to stick with the TSA at the time.

Despite all the space constraints, Orlando travelers continue to give the airport high marks for satisfaction: according to an annual survey by local Valencia College, 93% of passengers were “satisfied” or “very satisfied” with the overall screening experience.

Feature photo by Ankabala for Getty Images

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