Airport security upgrade enjoys smooth transition | VailDaily.com

Airport security upgrade enjoys smooth transition

Veronica Whitney

Bush smoothly rubbed a bag with the swab and then placed it on one of the airport’s new Explosives Trace Detection machines, which beeped after five seconds.

“That means it’s clean and ready to go in the plane,” said Bush, a screener with the Transportation Security Administration, which took over all commercial airport’s security in November.

Screening all bags is now routine at more than 400 commercial airports across the country, including the Eagle County airport. The measure, in place since Dec. 31, is part of a Congressional order that requires every checked bag at commercial airports to be screened for explosives.

Before the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, only 5 percent of the roughly 2 million bags checked each day were screened for bombs, the Transportation Security Administration reports.

“Because of the new measures, airlines had alerted passengers to be at the airport two hours in advance of their departures,” said Kenneth Maenpa, operations manager at Eagle County Regional Airport.

Spot checks Sunday at several of the nation’s airports showed no major delays caused by the new security measures.

“Saturday (Jan. 4) was our test day and we passed,” Maenpa said.

Saturday after New Year’s Day is the busiest day at the county airport, with about 5,000 passengers travelling through it, Maenpa said.

“Despite the amount of passengers we had, it went really smoothly,” he said. “No passenger was left behind because of the screening.”

On the contrary, Maenpa said, the more than 50 new Transportation Security Administration screeners now working at the airport helped speed the checking process.

“This year we have double the number of screeners we had last year. That’s why we did so well,” he said.

At the international terminal for Northwest Airlines at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York, passengers waited up to 30 minutes longer than usual while their bags were sent through giant screening machines and workers ripped open taped boxes and rifled through their contents before closing them up again.

“It’s been going very smoothly,” Catherine Miller of Austin, Tex. said Monday at the Eagle County airport. “The security guys are doing their job fast.”

The Transportation Security Administration hired 23,000 baggage screeners and 33,000 passenger screeners, who have been trained to do the job at the airports.

At Eagle County Regional Airport, both passenger and luggage screening have been overhauled to meet the mandate. Passengers now have to get their bags screened by Transportation Security Administration employees before checking in with the airline.

To do that, 13 new Explosives Trace Detection (ETD) machines have been installed at Eagle County Regional Airport. The detectors work by collecting samples and detecting vapors and residues of explosives. The airport underwent some modification in front of the ticket counters and adjacent to the front curb to install the explosive detector machines.

In addition to explosives detection and explosives trace detection machines, TSA personnel are also trained to do hand searches and passenger/bag matching.

“The ETD can detect 15 categories of chemicals,” said Richard Des Enfants, a supervisor with the Transportation Security Administration at the county airport. “Right now this is the safest way of transportation.”

The airport underwent additional construction at the passenger screening checkpoint to install new equipment and to improve the flow of passengers. Construction at the checkpoint included rotating the security checkpoints to an angled position to provide more room and put in proper security equipment; adding a third lane and replacing two X-ray machines while adding a new one. All equipment was purchased, installed and will be maintained by the Transportation Security Administration

“Last year at this time we had lines at the checkpoints,” Maenpa said. “The new lane and new machines have helped a lot.

“TSA’s standard is to have nobody waiting on the passenger screening line longer than 10 minutes,” he added.

Marcela Garcia of Mexico was waiting patiently in line Monday to get her bag screened at Eagle County Regional Airport. The line was moving slowly, not because of the screening, but because the airline had to organize last minute connections for some passengers.

“I think it’s OK if the bags are checked,” Garcia said. “It’s for everybody’s security.”

In spite of the new measures, Faith Roberts of Austin, Texas, said her perception of flying hasn’t change.

“If they want to do something, they’ll do it,” she said.

Secretary of Transportation for Security Adm. James M. Loy said with this additional layer of security in place, airports and air travelers are better protected than they have ever been.

Veronica Whitney can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 454, or at vwhitney@vaildaily.com. The Associated Press contributed to this story.




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