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Archive for Sunday, February 17, 2002

Federal government now responsible for airline security

February 17, 2002

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— The government took responsibility Sunday for security at U.S. airports with a pledge to safeguard travelers while also treating them with courtesy.

Passengers will not notice many immediate changes with the federal takeover, said John Magaw, the new undersecretary for transportation security. Management of security has switched from private companies, but many of the same procedures and employees are to remain in place, he said.

Department of Transportation: www.dot.gov

"As of now, we will make sure we're observing the screening and make sure it's being done properly," McGaw said at a news conference at Dulles International Airport.

He cited a few differences now that the government is in charge. Passengers will be offered chairs and shoehorns when they are asked to remove their shoes to be inspected for explosives. Also, travelers who inspected with handheld wands will be able to see their valuables in front of them.

"I want to make sure it is a highly professional screening, but it also has courtesy toward the passenger," McGaw said. "It's safe and passenger friendly as much as possible."

The Sunday deadline was one of several in legislation passed in response to the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

By Nov. 19, all security screeners are supposed to be federal employees, and by the end of the year, all checked bags will have to be screened by explosive detection equipment.

Last month's deadline to screen all checked bags for explosives was met by airlines making sure luggage did not get on an airplane unless the passenger also boarded. Critics say the passenger-bag match would not stop a suicide bomber.

The Transportation Department's inspector general said last week that many bags would have to be screened with handheld wands rather than $1 million explosive detection machines if the government is to meet the Dec. 31 deadline.

While the government now is in charge of aviation security, representatives of the airlines will remain in place at security points, but will report to the government rather than to the carriers. Most of the airport security companies will stay in place, although they, too, will report to the government.

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