Alaska airports to hire more screeners

Posted: Thursday, August 22, 2002

FAIRBANKS (AP) -- 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 that all baggage be screened for explosives, an entirely new task, she noted.

Figures on how many screeners work at Fairbanks International Airport weren't immediately available from Alaska Airlines, their employer.

However, Acting Airport Manager Jim Fiorenzi said the TSA's plan to hire 94 people would represent a substantial increase. The new employees and the new explosives detection equipment will create a space problem, however, he said.

''I'm trying to see how I'm going to accommodate the TSA and all of those people,'' Fiorenzi told the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner.

The state-run airport currently employs just over 100 people. Alaska Airlines has an additional 150, Fiorenzi said. So he's looking at almost a third more workers under TSA's plan.

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

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.

Currently, McElroy said, the TSA is funded through three sources:

-- A $2.50 federal fee on each person who steps on an airplane (with a maximum of $10 per trip.

-- Airline contributions that match the amount they spent on security in 2000

-- Appropriations from the federal government's general fund.

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 already 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.

Rosenker, with the TSA in Washington, said any worry about increased charges is ''speculation.''

''It's certainly not in our business plan to raise fees,'' she said.

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