Flexibility needed in new era of air safety
By Fred Bayles
You've spent two hours going through airport security. You're ready to board. But not so fast.
While you and your luggage are being poked and prodded, new federal regulations also mandate that your plane and those who service it get the same treatment.
The procedures in place since late September require a thorough search of the interior and exterior of passenger jets at least once a day. That includes all material brought on board by cleaning staff, catering companies and mechanics. Employees' identities must be verified, and they must be frisked on a random basis. Even flight crews are checked before they're allowed on board.
In a business where time is money, those procedures are likely to increase costs for airports and airlines. How much is unknown; flight schedules and other security measures are developing.
"The aircraft are going to sit at the gate a lot longer," said Bonnie Wilson, who advises 450 airports on security issues for the Washington-based Airports Council International North America. "This is going to have an impact, because airports are not designed to hold people arriving three hours before they can get on their plane."
And, the experts said, these security measures may not be all that effective. In at least one case, the responsibility for security checks of the cabin has been given to the cleaning crew.
"What you're doing, in effect, is using airline ground staff to make sure airline ground staff hasn't snuck anything onboard. It's an interesting circular approach to security," said Kyle Olson, a Washington-based security consultant.
The Federal Aviation Administration issued security directives in late September that require airlines to conduct sweeps of their planes and closely supervise service personnel who have access to them.
Among the requirements:
Each morning, before passengers board any jet, airline workers must check overhead bins, closets, lavatories, galleys, trash receptacles, storage bins, seat backs, cushions and pockets, and the area under seats, as well as other compartments in the passenger cabin and the flight deck. Life vests must be removed from under each seat and inspected for signs of tampering.
The searches must be repeated if there is any indication of a lapse in security around the aircraft. The routine is also required for every U.S.-bound commercial jet leaving from an overseas airport.
At the same time, the airline must inspect the cargo hold and all service doors and hatches on the exterior of the aircraft.
Throughout the day, airlines must monitor service staff, such as employees of caterers,, checking their identification and inspecting tool kits and personal property. On one aircraft out of every three, each employee must be patted down or checked with a handheld metal detector. Workers' property must be inspected.
Flight crews' identification cards must be checked by an airline representative who must also verify that each crew member is assigned to the flight. If there is any question, the crew member will not be allowed on the plane.
Few question the need for the additional steps. A security sweep of planes grounded at Boston's Logan International Airport in the days after the Sept. 11 attacks turned up a 4-inch Buck knife on a Delta Air Lines jet, and a 2-inch Swiss Army knife on a Northwest Airlines jet.
With more security regulations coming out regularly, airlines and airports are struggling to adjust.
"This is a constantly evolving situation that requires a day-to-day review of our operations," said Cindi Kurczewski, a spokeswoman for Delta Air Lines, which added 15 minutes to its boarding times to accommodate new security steps.