Fate of Kenai airport screeners up in the air

Posted: Friday, May 02, 2003

While some airports in the state will get significantly increased numbers of Transportation Security Administration screeners, the Kenai Municipal Airport is still up in the air as to what its fate with the TSA will be.

The government announced Wednesday that 3,000 airport screening jobs will be cut by the end of September in the Lower 48 and that small airports in Alaska, like Cordova and Yakutat, will receive more screeners. Meanwhile in Kenai, the TSA has yet to decide how many, if any, screeners the airport will have.

TSA screeners have been working at the Kenai Municipal Airport since January, said Rebecca Cronkhite, airport manager. The screeners check passengers as well as baggage headed out on Era Aviation flights and are welcomed there by both the airport and Era.

"Right now we have no problem with them (operating) out of here," said Judy Erikson, Era's Kenai station manger. "... We're hoping maybe they'll send a couple more this way to relieve the ones that are here."

Since the TSA screeners arrived at the airport, there has been an ongoing discussion between Era, the airport and the TSA as to whether the screeners would stay and, if so, what level of screening they would provide.

"The Kenai airport continues to work with the TSA to federalize the airport, which would make the baggage screening operation and possibly passenger screening permanent here," Cronkhite said. "The funding and authorization for that is not approved at this time. ... We just don't have word as to what their final solution is going to be in Kenai."

Cronkhite said she hopes the TSA personnel will remain in Kenai and continue to do baggage screening so passengers' luggage can continue to be checked through to destinations beyond Anchorage. If baggage screening is not provided in Kenai, one result could be that Era passengers connecting with an Alaska Airlines flight in Anchorage would have to pick up their bags in Anchorage and recheck them with Alaska Air, instead of just having them checked through to their final destination when they check in at the Kenai airport.

That result could be avoided by having TSA personnel in Anchorage screen baggage coming in from Kenai flights.

"We've got that handled," Erikson said. "We would do what we call reverse screening (baggage) would be screened when it gets to Anchorage."

That would enable passengers connecting to other flights to still check their bags through to their final destinations when they board Era fights in Kenai, although the bags wouldn't be screened until they got to Anchorage.

However, if the TSA no longer provided passenger screening in Kenai, that would be a problem.

"My employees can't do any type of screening anymore," Erikson said. "I don't know when or where that would come."

For the time being, security screening at the Kenai airport will remain the same, at least until a decision is made by the TSA.

Erikson said Era was told the screeners will remain in Kenai on a month-by-month basis. She also said she has heard from screeners working in Kenai that they had been told they would remain in Kenai until at least June.

It is not known when a more permanent decision will be made.

"We're moving (on) it quickly and the upper echelon of Era is working very hard to get this through the government," Erikson said. "We're the second largest carrier in Alaska, so we're working hard on it so it's more convenient to the customer."

As the busy summer season approaches, passengers should continue to arrive at the airport early for flights and factor extra time into their travel schedules for security delays at the Kenai airport as well as any other airports they will be passing through.

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