Airports Installing Bomb Dectection
DENVER (AP) _ Airports around the country are hiring design consultants and trying to find the room _ and the money _ to install the bulky bomb-detection machines that must be in place by an end-of-the-year government deadline.
Although the deadline is months away, many industry officials and consultants believe that because of the logistical challenges, the costs _ and the possibility there will not be enough of the $1 million X-ray machines to go around _ the nation’s 453 commercial airports will have a hard time complying.
``It’s not humanly possible to get the equipment to run those bags through by the date they established,″ said Larry Salyers, general manager of Tri-State Airport near Huntington, W.Va.
The machines represent the second, more challenging phase in a government effort to tighten airport security.
On Jan. 18, airlines were ordered to begin screening all checked baggage for explosives, whether by hand searches, bomb detection machines, dogs or the matching of every piece of luggage to a passenger. Most airlines are meeting the requirement by matching bags, and few glitches have been reported. But by the end of the year, machines with 3-D medical X-ray technology must be used in all cases.
The largest of the machines are as big as a van _ nearly 16 feet long, 8 feet wide and 7 feet high _ and weigh 8 1/2 tons. And major airports will need dozens of them. The Los Angeles airport, for example, will have to accommodate at least 100 of the machines.
For Los Angeles and many other airports, that is likely to mean extensive renovations. Many, for example, will have to reinforce floors or erect new buildings, and run cables to supply electricity to operate the machines.
``Many of our nation’s older and more venerable airports weren’t designed with anything like our post-Sept. 11 world in mind,″ said Henry Ogrodzinski, president of the National Association of State Aviation Officials.
Airports are also struggling to figure out the ideal place to put the machines to ensure security and avoid passenger inconvenience.
If one of the machines detects something suspicious in someone’s luggage, the passenger must be present when the bag is searched. The question for airports is whether to disperse the machines among various airlines’ ticketing counters or place them in a central area.
Many industry officials say the government has not provided enough guidance on where to put the machines.
``People aren’t going to plunk down billion-dollar capital projects until they know,″ said Steve Van Beek, senior vice president for policy at Airports Council International-North America.
The government has said it is determined to make the deadline.
``Sept. 11 taught us that our enemies are willing to die to attack us, and that means that we must successfully screen all baggage and cargo on a passenger flight, not just succeed at matching bags to passengers,″ John Magaw, the new undersecretary for transportation security, said earlier this month. ``Screening all baggage and cargo through detection technology is therefore among one of our highest priorities.″
Another question for the airports is money. The government will buy the machines and assume the costs of staffing and operating them, and the law mandating the installation of the screening equipment authorizes $1.5 billion to cover airport modifications.
But airports are going to have to spend many millions of dollars up front before they are reimbursed. And there is widespread uncertainty over whether the amount budgeted will be enough to cover their expenses.
Design consultant Christer Wilkinson, chairman of the Airport Consultants Council’s security committee, said he has heard estimates ranging from $2 billion to $20 billion for the work that will need to be done to accommodate the machines.
Officials at Dallas-Fort Worth International, which has hired consultants and is spending $2.3 million to develop a plan to accommodate the 80 or so machines that will be needed there, said they may sell bonds and try to raise passenger fees to pay for the modifications.
Denver’s airport, which will need 40 additional machines, has hired a consulting firm to integrate them into the 6-year-old terminal’s automated baggage-handling system. The design work alone will cost $2 million.
Another concern is the availability of the machines, at least 2,000 of which are supposed to be installed by year’s end. Only about 160 of them are now in use at 50 U.S. airports.
InVision Technologies of Newark, Calif., and L-3 Communications of New York make the machines certified by the Federal Aviation Administration. And the two companies have said they can make only half the needed machines this year.
Paul Takemoto, spokesman for the newly created federal Transportation Security Administration, said officials hope to enlist other manufacturers.
On the Net:
American Association of Airport Executives: http://www.airportnet.org
Transportation Department: http://www.dot.gov