Airports Won't Meet Security Mandate

032502, story, airport security, weapons, xray, JM CBS/AP

If terrorists ever again target U.S. aviation, the threat is likely to be centered right in the belly of an airplane. Security experts agree a suitcase bomb presents the greatest risk.

Yet, as CBS News Correspondent Bob Orr reports, four months before a year-end deadline requiring that all checked bags be scanned for explosives, most luggage is not being screened.

Now the nation's biggest airports warn there's no way to meet the mandate without major disruptions.

Jeff Fegan, chief executive officer of Dallas Forth Worth Airport, says there's not enough time, money or space to install the 60 bomb scanners needed to scan the 55,000 bags checked each day.

"We have a very difficult time understanding how that's going to happen at this airport and at the same time not create long lines and really adverse impacts on our customers," he says.

Instead, screeners will use small explosive trace detectors in crowded ticket lobbies to conduct invasive searches for bombs.

"The protocol calls for about 60 percent of the bags to actually be opened in some fashion," says Fegan. "So that would actually take place right here in front of all the other customers."

Most major U.S. airports face a similar crunch because the Transportation Security Administration is nowhere close to having enough equipment or manpower.

To meet the deadline, the TSA needs 1,100 CTX bomb scanners, 5,600 handheld trace detectors and 22,000 screeners. So far, only 240 scanners have been installed, 1,200 detectors are now in airports and only 175 screeners have been hired.

"Right now we're thinking that there will be probably 20 to 30 airports where we will not be able to meet the Dec. 31 deadline," says Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta.

Mineta, who's promised to move passengers through security checkpoints "in 10 minutes," concedes hand searches at those airports will cause big delays.

"It may take an hour-and-a-half, two hours, to do it," Mineta says.

That's why airports and passenger advocates now are pushing Congress to delay the Dec. 31 bag-screening deadline.

"I just think it's an impossible dream," says Tom Parsons, who runs Bestfares.com.

Unless Congress backs off, Parsons says, chaos will rule the airports.

"It's going to be an aggravation," he says. "You think we had long lines before?

"I think you're going to see even longer lines."

Airlines say they simply can't afford that. With flights and passengers off 10 percent this year, losses could top $5 billion. But until security holes, like inadequate baggage screenings are closed, the U.S. aviation industry runs the risk of losing even more.
  • Jaime Holguin

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