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