- The Washington Times - Friday, September 21, 2001

Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport would reopen as the nation's testing site for new airport security measures under an idea mentioned yesterday by the chairman of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee.

Reagan Airport could become a "safety demonstration airport" to test methods of preventing terrorist attacks like the Sept. 11 suicide hijackings that destroyed New York's World Trade Center and damaged the Pentagon, said Sen. Ernest F. Hollings, South Carolina Democrat.

Mr. Hollings made the remarks during the first congressional hearing on aviation safety held as a result of the terrorist attacks.

The senators urged Transportation Department officials to move quickly to improve security. First priorities they mentioned were reinforced cockpit doors to prevent hijackers from forcing them open, as many as 28,000 armed sky marshals on commercial flights and more thorough passenger and baggage screenings at airports.

Several senators asked about the Federal Aviation Administration taking over the airport screenings rather than leaving the job to private security firms that contract with the airlines. Transportation Secretary Norman Y. Mineta said federalizing the screeners was one option, but another would be subjecting the private workers to federal standards.

Sen. Barbara Boxer, California Democrat, called the screening jobs, which pay as low as $5.50 per hour and have turnover rates as high as 400 percent at some airports, "a step up from the doughnut shop."

Mr. Hollings suggested the Transportation Department follow the example of European countries, whose governments control airport security. While U.S. airport screeners average $15,000 per year, their European counterparts average $30,000 per year and have about a 5 percent annual turnover rate.

Mr. Mineta said the Bush administration will propose an aid plan for airlines that includes $3 billion for security. He estimated the cost of sky marshals on commercial flights at $1.8 billion per year. Other portions of the funding could be used to install deadbolts on cockpit doors and provide better training of security personnel, he said.

More security measures are planned for the nation's airlines as soon as next month, although Mr. Mineta did not explain exactly how they would expand on the emergency measures instituted last week.

As airline traffic gradually resumed two days after the attacks, the FAA banned curbside baggage check-ins, allowed only ticketed passengers to pass beyond security checkpoints and hired more armed guards for airports.

Two Transportation Department task forces are scheduled to make recommendations Oct. 1 for additional security, although details of the new measures are still being worked out. One task force is working on airport security and the other on airplane security.

The senators warned that no matter how safe the airlines become, they doubted the Sept. 11 attacks were the last act of terrorism involving the nation's transportation system.

Sen. John Kerry, Massachusetts Democrat, said any new security funding for airlines should include railroads.

Since the attacks, Amtrak has started asking passengers to produce photo identification.

"Terrorists always think of the next weakness," Mr. Kerry said. "And they will."

Mr. Mineta said the Sept. 11 attacks were successful largely because they were unexpected. Previously, anti-terrorism efforts focused on discovering explosives or stopping random maniacs.

"For the first time, we had a commercial airliner turned into a lethal weapon," Mr. Mineta said.

Sen. Max Cleland, a Georgia Democrat, said the risk of chemical or biological attack should not be overlooked in new security measures.

"We need to think about maybe our next attack," he said.

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