- The Washington Times - Friday, October 12, 2001

The Senate unanimously approved a bill last night that would tighten security in the nation's airports and on the airlines.
The legislation, approved 100-0, turns aviation security personnel into federal employees, puts air marshals on most commercial flights, requires airlines to strengthen cockpit doors against break-ins, authorizes checks of passengers' names against an FBI list of suspected terrorists and imposes a $2.50 fee per flight leg to pay for the added security.
Sen. John McCain, Arizona Republican, said the bill passed exactly one month after suicide hijackers slammed airliners into the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and the Pennsylvania countryside would help in "ensuring that this kind of thing can never happen again."
The Senate's weeklong stalemate over the bill was broken yesterday afternoon after Democrats dropped an amendment that would have compensated laid-off airline workers for their lost wages.
But the bill faces an uncertain future in the House, where some Republican leaders are skeptical of turning baggage screening over to a federal agency.
The bill followed concern in Congress that the current 28,000 airport screeners and other aviation security personnel were underpaid and poorly qualified. They work for private security companies hired by the airlines.
The Senate bill stalled for more than a week, primarily over a proposal from Sen. Jean Carnahan, Missouri Democrat, to compensate the estimated 106,000 airline workers who lost their jobs after the Sept. 11 attacks.
The delay prompted Sen. Ernest F. Hollings, South Carolina Democrat, to say yesterday, "Cut out this dillying around. There's no reason we can't get this through today."
After the amendment for aid to airline workers was dropped, Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, South Dakota Democrat, said, "I am troubled, disappointed, disillusioned."
He pledged that further legislation would seek to compensate the airline workers. "We will not allow those workers in any way to believe that this country is going to turn its backs on them," he said.
President Bush proposed last week extending unemployment insurance benefits by 13 weeks in states hardest hit by job losses caused by the attacks, which would include benefits for many airline workers.
Meanwhile, a House panel yesterday accused the Federal Aviation Administration of caving in to pressure from airlines to avoid installing technology that adequately screens passengers and baggage for weapons or bombs.
The hijackers during the Sept. 11 attack threatened passengers and crew members with box cutters, which were not prohibited under FAA rules at the time.
"Just as FAA has failed for six years to adopt rules to strengthen qualifications for airport security screeners, it has also neglected to require the latest screening security technology at our nation's airports," said Rep. John L. Mica, Florida Republican and chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure aviation subcommittee.
The members of Congress said airlines try to save money by not purchasing scanning equipment that can cost millions of dollars but said most of the blame lies with the FAA.
Potentially lethal plastic knives and other weapons could be detected by existing technologies, Mr. Mica said.
He also said technologies already installed in some airports are not used often enough.
"We are not using the technology currently available to us," said Rep. William O. Lipinski, Illinois Democrat.
The hearing examined the effectiveness of several of the technologies. The systems use different kinds of imaging technology to identify explosives, weapons and drugs that could be concealed in baggage or under clothing.
The testimony from industry executives discussed which technology was best for different kinds of scanning needs.
"There is no silver bullet technology," said Ralph Sheridan, president of American Science & Engineering, a Massachusetts manu- facturer of screening technology.
Effective airport screening requires a combination of several techniques, such as X-ray machines, metal detectors, explosive-detection systems and other imaging technologies, he said. In addition, the screening personnel must be well-qualified.
He acknowledged the cost of all the technologies could be high.
Meanwhile, the FAA has ordered airlines to be more diligent.
"In the aftermath of September 11, FAA has committed to increasing the number of passenger bags that are randomly screened," said FAA Administrator Jane Garvey.

Sign up for Daily Newsletters

Copyright © 2019 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

The Washington Times Comment Policy

The Washington Times welcomes your comments on Spot.im, our third-party provider. Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide