updated 7/18/2008 12:13:03 PM ET 2008-07-18T16:13:03

Pilots at three airports in South Carolina, Maryland and Pennsylvania won't have to take their shoes off as much while testing a new screening program officials hope may ease congestion at security checkpoints.

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Under the program launched Thursday, pilots and co-pilots are divided from the general public in a separate security lane. There, they must present two forms of photo identification, which are immediately checked against computerized databases by TSA security officials.

Representatives from the Transportation Security Administration and the Airline Pilots Association said the test program will allow security screeners more time to focus on the general public and less time on individuals who have undergone repeated and lengthy security screenings in the course of their daily work.

"It's all based on risk," said Bill McReynolds, a FedEx pilot and representative of the pilots association, who spoke with reporters at the Columbia Metropolitan Airport. "It allows the TSA to spend more time on the unknowns. ... It allows them to be more effective."

Under the new screening procedure, which began Thursday, pilots and co-pilots enter a separate lane in the TSA security checkpoint area. They must present two forms of photo identification, such as an airline-issued identification and another form of picture identification. A TSA security officer checks the pilot's personal information, photo and other credentials on a computerized data base to verify their identity.

They will no longer be required to remove their shoes, something the general public is still required to do.

McReynolds, who is on the pilot association's national security committee, said he is certain the new process would ease congestion at security checkpoints because it would remove the thousands of pilots and co-pilots from the lines that are flying aircraft daily.

"I travel a lot as a passenger. I am sure it will make the system more effective," he said.

Eric Beane, TSA's federal security director in Columbia, said pilots may be pulled aside for periodic additional screening and pat-downs. Like the general public, they will be observed by behavior detection officers and subject to other layers of security in the area if necessary, Beane said.

The new wrinkle is the computerized photo identity verification.

"We are vetting them against terrorist watch lists" and other computerized databases that include information gleaned about the pilots in the periodic security checks, Beane said.

The databases are constantly updated and will include information, for example, if a pilot left an airline's employment just hours earlier.

If deemed successful, the new screening may be extended to other vetted members of airline crews, he said.

Columbia is the smallest of the three airports involved in the 60-day test, which was mandated last year by Congress, Beane said. The others are in Pittsburgh, Pa., and Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport.

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