- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 30, 2002

The nation's airports face at least $2 billion in construction costs to make room for machines to detect explosives. Officials say they don't know how many machines are needed, where they should be installed or who will pick up the cost.
For the most part, renovations have yet to begin, and it's unlikely that airports will meet a deadline to have all the equipment in place by the end of the year.
"As we sit here, we don't know what to build or where to build it," said Jim Wilding, president of the Washington Metropolitan Airports Authority, which runs Washington Dulles International and Ronald Reagan Washington National airports and handles 35 million passengers annually.
"There's just a whole host of very complicated, very expensive decisions that need to be made," he said. "You wish they could have been made last week or last month, but they just haven't been."
The new aviation-security law requires explosives-detection systems at all 429 commercial airports by Dec. 31 to inspect checked baggage. But the airports have to make room for the machines.
Transportation Department Inspector General Kenneth Mead estimated the cost of renovating the airports to accommodate the more than 2,000 machines at more than $2 billion.
The government will pay installment costs of $175,000 per machine, said Jonathan Thompson, Transportation Security Administration spokesman.
Because airport executives said there isn't enough time to complete the renovations by year's end, they will need to use other technologies, such as handheld equipment to detect traces of explosives, in addition to the explosives-detection machines.
"We tend to think in terms of a couple of years to build things, rather than a couple of months," Mr. Wilding said. "It's increasingly likely that a combination of technologies is going to be necessary rather than going directly to a permanent solution."
At Salt Lake City International Airport, which handles 19 million passengers a year, checked bags are first inspected with the handheld equipment, for instance. They are sent through machines only if there is something suspicious.
"A system such as ours is the only way that all airports can comply with the law," said Tim Campbell, the airport's executive director. "There's no way the manufacturers can even manufacture enough machines, let alone have the airports in a position to install and retrofit their terminals."
Others in the airport-management field want to be able to use alternatives to the machines.
George Doughty, executive director of the Lehigh-Northampton Airport Authority, said smaller airports should be allowed to search bags by hand. The authority runs Lehigh Valley International Airport in Allentown, Pa., which handles 1 million passengers a year.
"The law specifically states EDS machines," Mr. Doughty said. "If you can accomplish the same mission with another technique, I'm sure Congress would be happy with that."
Sen. Richard J. Durbin, Illinois Democrat and a member of the Senate Appropriations transportation subcommittee, acknowledged that there may not be enough machines in place by Dec. 31. "As long as we're making a good-faith effort and I think we are I'm not going to be critical," Mr. Durbin said.
Also to be decided is where the machines should go. Transportation Secretary Norman Y. Mineta and many airport executives say they want them in baggage-handling areas, rather than in airport lobbies.
"It's going to be difficult to meet any kind of customer-service requirements if these machines are in front of the ticket counters," said Gina Marie Lindsay, managing director of Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, which handles 27 million passengers a year.
Failure to install available machines before the deadline might have a positive effect, some officials said, insofar as the government might, over the next year, be able to help them find more modern equipment.
"I don't want them to spend billions of dollars on equipment that may be outdated in a year or two," said the chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure aviation subcommittee, Rep. John L. Mica, Florida Republican. "They're making progress to acquire equipment and meet the requirements Congress has set up, but we've got to do a much better job of moving forward for next-generation technologies."

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