Alaska airports to gain dozens more screeners

Posted: Thursday, August 22, 2002

FAIRBANKS - Federal officials expect to hire dozens of passenger and luggage screeners at Alaska's largest airports.

The boost reflects a nationwide trend that has airlines concerned about where the costs will land and airport managers wondering where they will put all the people.

Under legislation passed by Congress last year, the existing private airport screening system will be fully taken over by the federal government by Nov. 19.

Across Alaska and the nation, the federal Transportation Security Administration plans to substantially increase the number of screeners compared with what the private system employs. That increase is necessary to meet new mandates for security in the wake of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, said Heather Rosenker, a TSA spokeswoman in Washington, D.C.

Increases are needed in part because Congress mandated all baggage be screened for explosives, an entirely new task, she noted.

Jim Fiorenzi, acting manager at Fairbanks International Airport, said the TSA's plan to hire 94 people would represent an increase of about a third more airport workers. The new employees and the new explosives detection equipment will create a space problem, he said.

In Anchorage, the TSA plans to hire 240 screeners, and in Kodiak it wants to hire 62 screeners, Rosenker said.

Screeners for the Juneau Airport have been interviewed at Centennial Hall. Airport officials didn't know how many would be hired and the company contracted to do the hiring couldn't be reached this morning. Last month, the airport moved and expanded its screening area and added new baggage-screening machines.

Deborah McElroy, president of the Regional Airlines Association in Washington, D.C., said her industry is worried about who will pay for the new employees.

McElroy said the TSA is funded through a $2.50 federal fee on passengers, airline contributions that match the amount they spent on security in 2000, and federal money.

But if TSA's costs rise too high, "we're concerned that Congress will turn to the airlines," McElroy said. "We can't continue to add fees and charges on passengers or we won't have an air transportation industry anymore."

Taxes and fees account for a quarter of the ticket price on many short-haul flights, she said. More fees will harm an industry that is staggering. For the first quarter of 2002, traffic is down 25 percent to 37 percent in different regions of the country, compared with a year earlier, she said.

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