After the Sept. 11 attacks, many people immediately assumed that more government was necessary and thus the Aviation Security Act, passed just two months after the attacks, federalized airport security. But on 9/11 airport security did not fail at its assigned task, which was to keep bombs and illegal weapons off the plane. It’s difficult to see, therefore, how federal workers would have performed better.
No country has more experience with terrorism than Israel, yet Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion Airport uses private security firms to do major portions of its security work. In Europe, entire airports are increasingly run by private corporations. The main airports at Athens, Copenhagen, Frankfurt, London, Rome, Vienna and Zurich, for example, are run by private for-profit firms. Government is not absent in these airports but, as with private prisons, it remains content with defining acceptable levels of ouput and creating procedures to measure and test the performance of the private companies.
Yet despite spending billions of dollars security at airports has not improved much since 9/11 and waste appears rampant.
Still not convinced privatization would have worked better? Professor Tabarrok notes that, as a test, 5 airports were allowed to keep private screeners. What do you think were the results? Go here to find out (Hint: They are much safer than non-privatized airports).
Chalk this up as yet another example of the private industry working better than the government, against the predictions of those who thought otherwise.