- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 26, 2003

Congress is reassessing the need for some safeguards in the nation's airline security because of "redundancies" in the system, Sen. Trent Lott said yesterday.
The Mississippi Republican mentioned the sky marshal program, which puts two armed sky marshals in first-class seats on many flights, as one of the programs that should be reviewed.
Commercial airplanes also are required to have reinforced cockpit doors and some pilots carry guns.
Mr. Lott, chairman of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation aviation subcommittee, said members of Congress are asking, "Do we need all of that? Can we modify that some way?"
"Maybe we do need it all, but I think we're going to need to reassess," said Mr. Lott, who spoke yesterday at a downtown hotel to the Aero Club, an organization of aviation executives.
His concerns about redundancies prompted Transportation Security Administration officials to warn about diminishing airline security.
"Redundancies are critical to a successful aviation-security program," said Robert Johnson, TSA spokesman. The TSA, which operates the sky marshal program, was established by Congress in November 2001.
The redundancies include computerized screening of persons purchasing airline tickets, baggage inspections and random searches of passengers.
The TSA employs "thousands" of sky marshals, Mr. Johnson said. Their budget and exact numbers are classified.
"All of that combines to give us a system of systems that gives us a number of opportunities to identify and stop the threat of a terrorist attack," Mr. Johnson said.
Airlines claim they lose $210 million a year by complying with federal requirements to make seats available for sky marshals.
Some airline industry officials said they agreed security procedures need to be reassessed.
"We would welcome any further review," said Eryn Travis, spokeswoman for the American Association of Airport Executives (AAAE).
The AAAE has complained that airport executives are required to follow federal security rules without being able to add their input.
"Airports have been asking that the federal government treat them as more of a partner," Miss Travis said.
So far, the airline industry has paid too much of the cost of security required since the September 11 attacks, Mr. Lott said.
"I think we need to take back some of those costs," he said. "I think we've tried to shove too much of it off on the industry."
Instead, taxpayers should pay more of airline-security costs, Mr. Lott said.
He also said the Bush administration is meeting with the congressional leadership this week to determine what kind of financial assistance should be given to airlines as a result of war-related costs.
"There could be some temporary, emergency help," Mr. Lott said.
Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist also said yesterday he expected Congress to approve aid for the aviation industry.
Other congressional leaders and the Bush administration acknowledged aid to airlines is possible soon, but offered few details.
"We are listening to the airlines," said Claire Buchan, White House spokeswoman. "We recognize the situation they are in. We're also obviously going to talk to Congress."
Shares of major U.S. airlines surged after Mr. Frist's announcement of a possible aid package, bringing hope some carriers would be able to avoid bankruptcy.
Shares of AMR Corp., the parent company of American Airlines, closed yesterday at $2.25, up 17 cents. Shares of Delta Air Lines closed at $9.81, up 29 cents.

LOAD COMMENTS ()

 

Click to Read More

Click to Hide