Beginning this fall, San Antonio International Airport will be home to new teams of passenger screening personnel and dogs that have learned how to detect explosives at a federal training facility located at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland.

Airport and Transportation Security Administration (TSA) officials on Monday signed a memorandum of agreement to bring the TSA’s passenger screening canines program to San Antonio International to provide additional security for travelers.

By the time the holiday travel period begins in November, SAT visitors will notice four new canine teams stationed around the security checkpoints of the airport. The dogs and their TSA handlers are trained to detect explosive materials on passengers and in their luggage.

Four trained K-9s, Labrador retrievers Noodle and Cypress and German Shepherds Rrevae and Keyno, were on hand for the signing of the agreement at Terminal B by San Antonio Police Department Chief William McManus, San Antonio Director of Airports Jesus Saenz Jr., and Jesus Presas, the TSA’s federal security director at SAT.

“TSA’s program is a great example of federal, state, and local law enforcement working together to ensure the safety of the traveling public,” Saenz said. “This is what it is about — all of us working together. The K-9s are the most efficient and effective means of detecting explosives and explosive materials. They can thwart any threats to our operation, especially at the checkpoints.”

The dogs will come from the TSA’s $12 million training facility located at Lackland, where locations are set up to resemble venues like an air cargo facility, transportation terminals, and a vehicle parking lot. About 160 dogs and their human handlers are in training at the facility, which opened in 2016, at any one time before going to work at airports and other sites nationwide.

During an intensive 12- to 16-week training period, humans are matched with their dog partners, then the pair undergoes a series of bonding exercises and explosive detection training. 

Before the canine teams begin their work at the airport, they must demonstrate proficiency in four areas: the canine’s ability to recognize explosives, the handler’s ability to interpret the canine’s change in behavior and conduct searches, and the team’s ability to locate the explosive’s odor and its source. 

The San Antonio International Airport is the only major airport in Texas that does not have passenger screening canine teams. The dogs and their handlers will be stationed around the security checkpoints of the airport. Because the dogs are working, the public will be asked not to pet them or engage with them in any way.

Bringing the screening teams to the San Antonio airport is a result of a bipartisan effort of several years by U.S. Reps. Tony Gonzales (R-San Antonio), Joaquin Castro (D-San Antonio), and Chip Roy (R-Austin).

The Federal Aviation Administration first initiated the use of teams of passenger screening dogs in 1972. More than 1,000 TSA teams of dogs and handlers work at airports, mass-transit terminals, and maritime terminals nationwide.

An April 2020 report by the federal Office of the Inspector General criticized the use of TSA’s canine teams, saying the agency “has not determined whether the limited use of [passenger screening canine] teams provides sufficient security because it cannot justify the teams as the best, most cost-effective checkpoint security.”

Polina Protozanova

Polina is a Shiner Editorial Intern for the San Antonio Report.