- The Washington Times - Friday, January 3, 2003

Federal transportation security officials expressed satisfaction with the performance of thousands of new machines to screen luggage yesterday, the second full day since a congressionally mandated Dec. 31 deadline to screen all checked bags.

"I'm pleasantly surprised. So far [the machines] have done very well," said William Driver, assistant federal security director for the Transportation Security Administration, the agency created after the September 11 terrorist attacks.

The TSA took over baggage and passenger screening from the airlines.

More than 55,000 passengers were expected to stream through Washington Dulles International Airport yesterday, a 13 percent increase in volume compared with a typical day. Federal officials said the additional passengers at Dulles where about 900 TSA employees work and other big airports would provide a glimpse of how the new baggage-screening system will work.

Passengers at Dulles reported no delays.

"It doesn't seem too bad. I'm sure once [security officers] get the system down, it won't take passengers long at all to get through," said Nicole Van Landingham, a Los Angeles resident catching a United Airlines flight back home.

Samuel Reynard, an economist who flew on US Airways from Charlotte, N.C., to attend a conference in the Washington area, didn't have his luggage, but he didn't have any complaints about the new baggage screening procedures, either.

Standing near an empty conveyor belt in the baggage claim area while waiting for his luggage to appear, Mr. Reynard said the new screening procedures hadn't caused him any delays.

Federal authorities at all commercial airports are screening every bag for explosives by using electronic detectors, bomb-sniffing dogs and security officers. Before September 11, only 5 percent of bags were screened for explosives, the TSA said.

Some scanners are in public view. Others are out of sight.

At Dulles, TSA workers operate six scanners near ticket counters. Countless others are in areas off limits to passengers and the public.

Mr. Driver declined to say how many of the machines at Dulles are behind the scenes, but that most luggage is scanned in the off-limits area where passengers can't see federal workers.

TSA officials have said security workers will open suspect bags, regardless of whether they are locked. If TSA screeners have to rifle through a bag, inspectors will leave a note explaining why it was opened.

Lori Owens, an Iowa native wearing a University of Iowa sweatshirt, reclaimed one piece of luggage at Dulles with a small lock that remained intact.

"Everything looks normal," said Mrs. Owens, who was preparing to board another flight to return home to Britain.

TSA officials have said they will not put bags on planes if there is reason to believe they pose a danger. But no bag was withheld from any flight at any U.S. airport yesterday, TSA spokeswoman Heather Rosenker said.

The TSA screens 2 million pieces of luggage daily. Based on data from select airports made available by the security agency, most bags required a single inspection by the van-size luggage scanners, not subsequent checks with explosives-detection equipment that suspicious bags require nor individual checks by TSA personnel.

At Jacksonville International Airport in Florida, 86 percent of bags needed a single inspection before being approved for loading on planes, and 14 percent of bags needed subsequent inspection.

At Dallas Love Field Airport and Norfolk International Airport, 95 percent of bags required a single inspection by scanners, with just 5 percent of bags requiring subsequent examination.

That could be significant. If the procedure works smoothly, delays are unlikely.

"As long as we don't hold people up, they're going to be happy," Mr. Driver said.

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