|AIRLINE SECURITY QUESTIONS|
December 28, 2001
| BETTY ANN BOWSER: Since
September 11, the American traveler has learned a lot about hurry up and
wait. Now, that trip to safer skies may take even longer as the most ambitious
overhaul of aviation security in American history begins to take effect.
Starting on January 18, just 60 days after the new aviation and transportation
security act was signed into law, every single piece of checked baggage
on every single plane at every single airport in the country will have
to undergo some kind of screening for explosives. The new law gives the
airlines a variety of ways to do this: Put the bags through explosive
detection systems like this one, search bags by hand, use explosive sniffing
dogs, or they can match every checked bag to its owner and make sure both
are on the plane. Just days after the bill became law, the man in charge
of carrying it out said he didn't think the Department of Transportation
could meet the January 18th deadline.
NORMAN MINETA, Secretary of Transportation: The law says we have to start screening baggage in 60 days. There aren't enough people. There aren't enough bomb- sniffing dogs to be able to do the job. Even in terms of bomb-sniffing dogs, they're only good for about an hour. No one told us that two months ago, three months ago.
BETTY ANN BOWSER: A day later, one of the lawmakers who helped craft the legislation expressed stunned surprise at the Secretary's remarks.
REP. JAY INSLEE, (D) Washington: The administration has now told us, nine days later, that they cannot meet the deadline set forth in law just nine days ago. Well, this is very disappointing because the word "can't" is not in the American lexicon.
BETTY ANN BOWSER: Privately, airline industry officials said they didn't think they could come up with a plan to screen all checked bags by the January 18th deadline, but when their attempts to get Congress to extend the deadline failed, the pressure was on. Bringing explosive detection devices on-line by January 18 was not an option. There are only about 150 of them in operation in 47 of the nation's airports. The airlines expect to need about 2,000 of the so-called EDS systems by December of next year, but the two companies that make them say mass production is months away. There aren't enough bomb-sniffing dogs in service to screen all bags, and not enough people to do hand searches, so the only immediate possibility for the airlines was bag matching. It works like this: Every checked bag gets a tag with a computerized bar code containing the passenger's name. Every passenger has a boarding pass that carries the same information. When the passenger boards the plane, an electronic ticket reader matches the bag to the passenger, but if the passenger fails to board the aircraft, the airline has to remove the checked bag from the plane. One of the nation's smaller carriers has already stepped up to the plate. Frontier Airlines started 100% bag matching two weeks ago. Frontier's security chief Tom Nunn explained how they do it.
TOM NUNN, Frontier Airlines: If you're the first passenger, your sequence number is one, or that bag is sequence number one. And with that sequence number there is a... It's broken up into sections with that sequence number, then that determines where in the aircraft we will load the bag. So if, at the point in time we're getting ready for departure, within a few minutes prior to departure, if you're not on board the aircraft, we are able through the computer system to identify what your sequence number was and thus where in the aircraft the bag is loaded. What this does for us is allow us to not look through every bag on the aircraft before we find the one that we're looking for. We can limit the number of bags that we're searching for and hopefully, within a very short period of time, get that bag off the aircraft.
BETTY ANN BOWSER: Frontier says it can do that because it has only 29 small planes in its fleet. It's different for a large hub and spoke carrier like united with 600 planes. At United's big hub at O'Hare, where many passengers have connections, the bags come off the planes, then pass through a huge underground sorting system to be sent to the proper connecting flights. All this happens out of sight as passengers are walking to their new gates. Under the law, the bags will have to be re-matched to each passenger who boards a connecting flight. United's vice president Pete McDonald says that's where the trouble comes in.
PETE McDONALD, United Airlines: Well, it's not going to be easy. And... I mean we're going to have to have our customer service representatives ensure that anyone who is checked in for a flight has boarded the flight. And if they haven't boarded the flight, we have to remove the bag and we need a process to communicate to our people down that... down that handle the baggage to get the bag off of the airplane. And, of course, none of this can really come together until right before departure time. And so, even if you have the best technology to identify that someone hasn't boarded, and that the bag is on the airplane, the time-consuming part is actually going through the aircraft, you know, the belly of the airplane, locating the bag, taking it off, and then maybe reloading baggage that had to be removed to get to the bag we need to remove.
BETTY ANN BOWSER: And, McDonald says, all this is going to slow things down even more.
PETE McDONALD: It's clearly going to increase delay, okay, because there are going to be cases where passengers, for whatever reason-- they're on the phone, they don't get on the airplane-- and we're going to have to remove bags, and there's going to be a period of time where we're going to have to take the bags off, and then the flight will be on its way. And we're going to do everything we can to minimize that disruption. But it's going to... We're going to have some delays to find the bags.
BETTY ANN BOWSER: When the man named to head the new agency that will deal with airport security went before Congress last week, the legislators were in no mood to hear reasons why the major carriers can't meet the January 18th deadline. And John McGaw, nominated to run the Transportation Security Administration, said if he's confirmed, he intends to see that the airlines comply.
JOHN MAGAW: Mr. Chairman, you will not hear me say "can't." It's not in my vocabulary and I will work to see it doesn't creep in there.
SEN. RON WYDEN, (D) Oregon: Again and again the airline industry offers these arguments for extending the deadlines in the law. Tell us your position with respect to whether you're going to seek to hold fast to the deadlines and time requirements laid out in the bill.
JOHN MAGAW: My answer to that, sir, is that we must meet those deadlines and we will make every effort to do so.
BETTY ANN BOWSER: If Magaw is confirmed, he faces huge challenges in the next year: First to build a new agency of 30,000 people from scratch, then implementing a system to electronically screen all checked bags for explosives by December 31 of 2002.