Alaska's small airports to get more screeners

Posted: Monday, May 05, 2003

ANCHORAGE - A federal government plan eliminating thousands of airport screening jobs nationwide substantially increases the number of screeners at Alaska's small airports.

The total number of screeners at Alaska airports will increase to 633 from 471.

While the state's two largest airports, Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport and Fairbanks International Airport, gain no new screeners, Alaska's smaller airports will get big increases under the Transportation Security Administration plan announced Wednesday.

The airport in Dillingham, for instance, goes from no screeners to 16. Airports in Bethel, Deadhorse, King Salmon, Cordova and Yakutat also will have 16 workers waving wands, up from just one.

Airports in Wrangell and Barrow go from two screeners to 16. And the airport in Kotzebue will have 18 screeners, compared with the current three.

Two of the 18 Alaska airports on the TSA list will lose screeners. The crew at Juneau International Airport is being cut by five to 57 screeners. Ketchikan International Airport loses one, leaving 22.

TSA announced Wednesday it was eliminating 3,000 airport screening jobs by the end of September. More than a hundred jobs are being cut at some of the nation's largest airports.

The reductions come on the heels of 3,000 job cuts announced in March. The agency says the moves together will save an estimated $280 million.

Kathy Mathews, TSA's acting deputy director at the Juneau airport, said 14 additional screeners at Wrangell is too many. The plan calls for 16 screeners.

She said the Gustavus airport outside Juneau doesn't have a screener at all, even though it's inundated with tourists visiting Glacier Bay during the four summer months. The airport is scheduled to open June 8.

"Those numbers aren't even close to being realistic to what the true need is," she said of screeners assigned to Southeast Alaska airports. "We definitely need more in Juneau."

TSA officials for Southeast Alaska are talking with people at TSA headquarters to try and get jobs reshuffled, Mathews said.

The 17-month-old federal agency welcomes feedback from states, said TSA headquarters spokeswoman Heather Rosenker, particularly where the numbers make sense and where they don't so adjustments can be made.

Some of the big increases in Alaska have to do with the start of the summer tourist season, Rosenker said.

Maggie Rhodes, TSA's federal security director for northern Alaska, says her region can use even more screeners. But she said she accepts what the agency can provide. The plan doubles the number of screeners in the northern region.

While many of the airports in her area are small, they are busy with tourists and oil industry workers flying in and out, Rhodes said. For example, the Bethel airport gets 129,000 passengers a year. Deadhorse gets 110,000, she said.

Kenneth Jarman, TSA's federal security director for central Alaska, which includes Anchorage, says he is evaluating the screener numbers for his region.

"We recognize that in some areas there are inadequate numbers of screeners and in some areas there are an excess number of screeners," he said.

Under the plan, the number of screeners at the Anchorage airport, which gets about 2 million passengers a year, remains at 240. The King Salmon airport will have 16 screeners under the plan, up from one.

Jarman said the public should not think that just because an airport is small and remote, it doesn't need protection from terrorists.

"If you overlook them, the bad guys will find out where those vulnerabilities are ... to get inside the system," he said.

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