Saturday, November 10, 2001

President Bush requested yesterday that states call up 2,000 more National Guard troops to airports to watch over travelers during the upcoming holiday season.
The president is trying to restore confidence in airline travel during the traditionally busiest time of the year for the transportation industry.
“In order to increase security of airline travelers during the holiday season, we will increase by 25 percent the number of National Guard personnel to protect our airports and airlines and American travelers,” Mr. Bush said at a White House ceremony to honor employers of National Guardsmen and Army Reservists.
Since September 11, about 6,000 National Guardsmen have been stationed at the nation’s 420 commercial airports. Although the president did not specify an amount of federal funding for the states, administration officials called it a dramatic increase.
“These are temporary measures and we believe they will help a lot,” Mr. Bush said.
The airlines can use all the help they can get.
This year, the Air Transport Association, a trade group for airlines, predicts the most dismal passenger figures for a holiday season since at least the Persian Gulf war in 1991. They blame the September 11 terrorist attacks and continuing security issues.
The group projects passenger traffic will fall 40 percent below levels originally expected for the last three months of this year, which, because of the slowing economy, were low before the attacks.
“I think any added security measure, especially during a time when some people haven’t traveled through the airports since last holiday season, is a positive,” said Tom Sullivan, spokesman for the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority.
“More than anything, I think it will boost the level of confidence travelers have in the aviation system,” he said.
The authority manages Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport and Washington Dulles International Airport. At both airports, National Guardsmen are stationed at security checkpoints where passengers and baggage are screened and also patrol terminals, some carrying machine guns.
The National Guard also could be guarding the Capitol as early as the middle of week, as Senate leaders signed off on that request yesterday.
It was not clear whether House leaders had signed the document yesterday, but they endorsed the idea last week.
Under Mr. Bush’s request, states could use the additional federal funding and the National Guard in any way required to protect their airports. Possibilities include monitoring departure gates and screening checkpoints or guarding parking garages and air-traffic-control towers.
Mr. Bush’s announcement came as the new chief executive at Argenbright Holdings announced major operational changes at the nation’s largest airport baggage- and passenger-screening company.
Atlanta-based Argenbright, which recently settled federal inquiries in Philadelphia over employee background checks, has been under fire in recent weeks for its screening practices.
In one incident last week in Chicago, a man carrying knives and a stun gun got past security at O’Hare International Airport. Several workers were fired.
Several airlines at Baltimore-Washington International Airport, including its largest tenant, Southwest Airlines, recently hired Argenbright to handle security.
Argenbright’s chief executive, David Beaton, announced yesterday an overhaul of management as well as new security procedures and work-force policies.
The company will increase wages, boost training to standards set by European companies and fire any employee who does not meet new and stricter procedures or regulatory guidelines.
The company said it would also seek permission from authorities to block recruiting of any prospective employee who has committed a felony. This exceeds current federal guidelines.
Tom Ridge, director of homeland security, said he would contact the nation’s governors to discuss Mr. Bush’s announcement.
“As a former governor, I just would assure them … that they’ll be given some more flexibility with additional resources,” the former Pennsylvania governor said.
Maryland Gov. Parris N. Glendening expressed mixed feelings about Mr. Bush’s plan.
The governor thinks it is clearly just a stopgap measure,” said Michelle Byrnie, Mr. Glendening’s spokeswoman.
“In the short term, the presence of National Guard troops will make people feel a little more secure, a little more confident. In the long term, the airport screening process must be federalized,” Ms. Byrnie said.
The Air Travelers Association also questioned whether using the National Guard at airports is the best way to deter terrorists.
“Unless they’re military police, they’re not really trained for screening,” said David Stempler, president of the advocacy group for airline passengers. “What’s the threat they’re really there to deal with? Is there going to be a shootout in the terminal or something? I really don’t think that’s the threat we’re expecting.”
Although the threat of a terrorist attack might discourage some travelers to Washington because of the September 11 attack, Mr. Stempler said the real threat lies elsewhere now that Washington’s airports are well-protected.
“Our general feeling is that terrorists tend to be cowards and tend to attack where other people aren’t looking,” he said.
Airlines are taking the security concerns of customers into consideration, with low fares and marketing campaigns intended to lure them back to flying for the holiday season.

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