Companies begin offering faster airport screening

The Transportation Security Administration appears to be taking a wait-and-see approach to the renewed effort.

The race is on among private companies to revive a long-defunct service that would give airline passengers -- especially frequent flyers -- faster processing through airport security lines.

Two companies, each with a deep bench of airport and security experience, are vying to resurrect the Registered Traveler program. The program collapsed abruptly last summer when the largest service, known as CLEAR, ceased operations as its parent company, Verified Identity Pass Inc., went into bankruptcy.

Travelers who sign up for the program pay an average of $175 a year and provide their personal information in exchange for a credit-card size pass that would allow them to avoid the long lines waiting to go through airport security screening. Although program subscribers would have access to special security lanes, they would undergo the same screening by the Transportation Security Administration as everyone else.

The first company seeking to revive the program is iQueue Priority Access, which this week launched its service at Indianapolis International Airport. The company hopes to expand service to 20 airports this year and 50 by the end of 2011, said Fred Fischer, iQueue managing partner.

The company is owned by Cogent Systems in partnership with ARINC, a systems engineering firm that is part of The Carlyle Group, a Washington-based global private-equity firm.

The other firm moving into the market bought CLEAR and is retaining its name. The company plans to launch at Denver International Airport in October and possibly Orlando International Airport in November, said Caryn Seidman-Becker, the company's chairman and chief executive officer.

The resurrected CLEAR is backed by private investors that include Robert LaPenta, the chairman, president and chief executive officer of L-1 Identity Solutions, a major biometric and secure identification services company. LaPenta serves on CLEAR's board of directors, along with former Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff.

One of the main differences between the two companies is whether they will offer identification cards with biometrics such as fingerprints. CLEAR will do so; iQueue will not - at least not yet.

"I'm saying this is all about predictability," said Fischer, who served as an executive of CLEAR when it was owned by VIP.

"This program from day one has always been about customer service and [getting to the] front of the line," Fischer added. "What we do is get you through a faster lane to get you to the front of the checkpoint."

But he added: "If the TSA comes back and requires biometrics, we can do biometrics overnight."

Seidman-Becker, on the other hand, said biometrics are an integral part of customer service. She said her company's goal is to provide a scalable business model that provides secure identification documents that could be used for other purposes down the road.

About 200,000 people signed up for a CLEAR card and gave their biometrics when VIP owned the service. Seidman-Becker said her company "bought the opportunity" to own that biometric information.

She said her company sent a notice to all former CLEAR subscribers on June 22 -- except those who joined at Orlando International Airport -- giving them the option not to have their biometrics transferred.

About 2 percent opted out, meaning their data was destroyed, she said.

A notice is expected to go out to those who joined at Orlando airport in the next few weeks, she added.

TSA appears to be taking a wait-and-see approach to the renewed efforts. "With the completion of a two-year Registered Traveler pilot in July 2008, the program transitioned to a business model offered by the private sector in partnership with airports and airlines," a TSA spokesman said.

"At this time, TSA is not involved in the collection of biometrics or Registered Traveler background checks," he added. "TSA continues to encourage interested vendors to work directly with TSA, airports, and airlines on a concept that will provide a valuable benefit to the traveling public while ensuring transportation security."

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