Before Sept. 11, Congress had planned for the U.S. Transportation Department to buy and install thousands of baggage screening machines at 429 U.S. airports between the years 2007 and 2014. But after the terrorists attacked, lawmakers shortened the deadline to Dec. 31 of this year - a deadline the airports and screening experts say can't be met. To avoid massive disruptions, Congress should extend the deadline.
The original idea was to create a nationwide system that would screen checked baggage for explosives or other forbidden content. That's still the idea, but reality has descended upon it.
The 39 busiest airports in the country say that air travel will be seriously disrupted unless the deadline is changed.
One of the airports' concerns is that the government can't hire enough screeners to meet the stated goal of a maximum 10-minute wait per passenger. If the waiting time for each passenger stretches much beyond 10 minutes, the airports contend, many potential fliers will resort to other forms of transportation. That in turn, the airports say, will result in "an unacceptable level of passenger service further jeopardizing the perilous state of the aviation industry."
While the 10-minute per passenger screening time is certainly desirable, the safety of the flying public is far more important. The goal, for both the government and the airlines, should be to be thorough, but efficient, in screening checked baggage. If more screeners than now planned for are needed, they should be hired and on the job as soon as practicable.
Another concern regarding the Dec. 31 deadline is that even if the date can be technically met, the machinery to be used might be unreliable.
The Transportation Department does plan stop-gap measures for detecting bombs in checked baggage, but explosives and security experts contend that such measures are "not really operationally viable." U.S. Rep. John Mica, R-Fla., chairman of the House Aviation Subcommittee, called the department's planned system "semi-ineffective."
Instead of minivan-sized explosives detectors that function much like medical CAT scanners, which the Transportation Department hopes to someday have installed at airports around the country, the agency announced that "trace detectors" - which it could have in use by the end-of-the-year deadline - were the "equivalent" of the big scanning machines. Oh? So now the department plans on having 1,100 big scanners and 4,800 to 6,000 trace detectors, and 21,500 trained screeners, on line by the deadline.
Too much emphasis is being placed on meeting the deadline, and too little on having the best technology in place when it's possible to do that. The deadline can and should be changed if the department can't have a first-rate screening system in place on time. People must be the overriding concern, not dates. If it takes a little longer to have the best technology available throughout the country, so be it.
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|Title Annotation:||Dec. 31 target for airport baggage screening; Editorials|
|Publication:||The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)|
|Date:||Jun 13, 2002|
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