Wary of Baggage Deadline
Sun Aug 18, 1:05 PM ET
By LESLIE MILLER, Associated Press Writer
WASHINGTON (AP) - Managers at some major
airports believe big travel problems could lie
ahead come the Dec. 31 deadline to begin
inspecting every piece of checked luggage for
explosives. They also are raising questions about
whether the bomb-screening equipment is
sophisticated enough and in adequate supply.
The prospect of long lines and finding space
for the minivan-sized machines in already cramped
airports have led Congress to consider delaying
the screening requirement by a year.
"I see disaster coming," said Bruce
Baumgartner, aviation manager at Denver
International Airport. "If it doesn't work
and people are inconvenienced, people are going to
Airports without enough of the explosive
detection machines in place by year's end must
check bags with smaller hand-held equipment that
finds traces of explosives.
The trace detectors require more employees and
take longer to examine luggage than the larger
Without enough employees and equipment,
passengers could face waits of three hours to have
their baggage checked for explosives, said Kevin
Cox, senior executive vice president at
Dallas/Fort Worth Airport.
"It will be catastrophic," he said.
Congress, which imposed the deadline in
security legislation passed after Sept. 11, is
having second thoughts. The House last month voted
217-211 to extend the deadline by a year. A Senate
committee will consider the idea when lawmakers
return from their summer vacation in September.
Rep. Peter DeFazio, a member of the House
Transportation aviation subcommittee, said Sunday
that the deadline should be met to prevent
terrorists from blowing up an airplane with
explosives hidden in luggage, as was done on Pan
Am Flight 103.
"I believe an explosives attack is much
more likely than a takeover," said DeFazio,
D-Ore., on NBC's "Meet the Press."
Some airport managers say the government is
installing obsolete equipment. They say the two
systems licensed for use at U.S. airports are slow
and often mistake ordinary substances for
Jerry Orr, aviation director at North
Carolina's Charlotte/Douglas Airport, calls the
machines "yesterday's news."
"We ought to take whatever time is
necessary to do it right the first time," Orr
Baumgartner said the federal government should
wait for better equipment. With the current
bomb-detection machines, which detect only density
and shape, "you can't tell the difference
between chocolate and plastique explosives,"
Richard Lanza, a Massachusetts Institute of
Technology scientist, said the U.S. machines —
made by InVision Technologies of Newark, Calif.,
and L-3 Communications of New York — do not
always distinguish between plastic explosives and
chocolate. Still, he said, "of all the
possible technologies, I think they're the
The Transportation Security Administration said
it plans to meet the year-end deadline by buying
1,100 of the large explosive detection equipment
and 4,000 trace machines.
"We are on pace at this point to meet that
deadline," TSA spokesman Greg Warren said.
InVision and L-3 said they would deliver 114
machines by the end of June. The Transportation
Department's inspector general said 100 were
delivered and only 29 of them were working as of
David Pillor, InVision's executive vice
president, said it takes time to install the
machines. "We're pretty close to our delivery
schedule," he said.
Messages left for a spokesman for L-3 were not
Pillor said a bomb-detection machine operator
can tell within 20 seconds whether a substance is
chocolate or plastique by looking at the shape,
size or whether it has a detonator. If the
machines are slow, he said, it's either because of
a poorly trained operator or because they're part
of an inefficient bag-handling system.
At Boston's Logan Airport, officials decided
they needed to build 11 baggage-screening rooms,
make seven major building additions and install
five new electrical substations. It is unclear
whether the airport will meet the deadline.
"It's going to be tight," said Craig
Coy, executive director of Massport, which runs
Logan. "I touch wood every day."
Hal Wight, who manages the tiny airport in
Klamath Falls, Ore., said he will have to move
some walls, remodel the ticket counters and change
the baggage belt to make room for federal
employees to check baggage with hand-held
"I don't think everything will be in place
on time," he said.
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