91/11/2001: The Day That Changed America
Airport Safety Issues Remain a Concern
By Charlie Keenan

Maryland Transportation Authority Officer Lawrence Collins and his dog, Tosca, check luggage for bombs and other hazardous materials at the Baltimore-Washington International Airport last January. (Photo: Matt Houston/AP WideWorld)

A year after the hijackings of 9/11, airport safety is still a major concern of Americans and Congress. The U.S. government pledged to take over airport screening and passed new legislation funding these changes. While other bills are pending and the debates continue, airports are flunking screening tests across the nation.

Airport screeners missed finding 24 percent of fake guns, bombs, and dynamite passed through checkpoints in random tests in June. Some airports let more than 50 percent of the contraband through. The tests were conducted by the Transportation Security Administration, a federal agency created to improve airport safety.

To improve the screening process, Congress budgeted $3.9 billion to hire federal screeners and buy new scanning equipment. Lawmakers set deadlines of November 19, 2002, for hiring 30,000 airport screeners, and December 31, 2002, for installing 5,900 detection machines at 429 airports nationwide.

Fat chance, says Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta. He says the Security Administration needs another $1 billion to get the job done in time.

"The amount of money Congress has approved simply will not support the mandate and timetable for aviation security that Congress set," Mineta says.

While officials struggle to replace private screeners with federal employees, congressional debate is heating up on another controversial issue: pilots carrying guns. The House voted in July to allow pilots to carry guns, but a bill in the Senate is stalled.

"Airline pilots and the American people have recognized the necessity for armed pilots," says Tracey Price, chairman of the Airline Pilots Security Alliance, a group in favor of allowing guns in the cockpit.

Mineta, who is opposed to the idea, says it would cost $860 million to set up a program to arm pilots, and another $250 million every year to do quarterly retraining of pilots.

"Pilots don't need guns, they need locked cockpit doors," says Senator Ernest Hollings, chairman of the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee.

"The door has got to be fixed — impenetrable," says Hollings, a Democrat from South Carolina. "Once that's fixed, we've solved the problem."