Thursday, April 10, 2003

Airport scans all checked bags now

By James Pilcher
The Cincinnati Enquirer

HEBRON - All luggage checked at the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport is now being scanned with bomb-detecting machines, as mandated by Congress.

But federal security officials say that the disruptions have been minimal in the nearly two months since the change was made, and that passengers should notice little difference.

"While we had a few days at first that we could call growing pains, it's going very well now," said Terry Burgess, the Transportation Security Administration's local security director.

The agency, charged with aviation security in the wake of the Sept. 11 terror attacks, says that it has been searching nearly 6,400 bags a day with either the large explosive detection system (EDS) machines or with smaller electronic trace detection systems since Feb. 14. Burgess said that EDS machines were handling 95-97 percent of the bags.

The original November 2001 law that created the TSA gave the agency until Dec. 31, 2002, to install electronic bag scanning machines at all of the nation's 429 airports. Congress last November extended that another year.

But TSA officials point out that the first law also included language that allowed airports that had not received bag machines to continue using alternative methods, and that they had met the original deadline all along.

The alternate procedures included the use of bomb-sniffing dogs, hand searches and something called positive bag matching, when a plane cannot take off if a bag is onboard and its owner is not. Bags had been scanned using those methods since January 2002.

The TSA had originally said it would scan all bags locally by the end of last year, but was unable to meet that target date because of extra time needed to reinforce the floor of Terminal 1 and widen some walls in Terminal 3.

"That was just one of those things that we didn't expect, but we are dealing with a building that was built in the 1940s," said Burgess, referring to Terminal 1.

Some airports are paying some infrastructure costs up front and then being reimbursed by the agency.

That was the case at Lexington's Bluegrass Airport, which paid $3.5 million to Bond Hill-based construction company Messer Construction Inc. to build a similar integrated system at that facility.


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