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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Saturday, November 24, 2001

Airport security law to put many out of work

By Mike Leidemann
Advertiser Transportation Writer

The federal takeover of airport security services will create more than 600 well-paid, highly responsible jobs in Hawai'i, but more than half of the private workers who now staff airport security may not be eligible to apply.

Passengers make their way through security at the Honolulu International Airport under the watchful eye of the National Guard.

Eugene Tanner • The Honolulu Advertiser

The Aviation and Transportation Security Act, just signed by President Bush, requires baggage screeners and security workers to have U.S. citizenship and a high school degree and to be able to speak English.

"It could be more than half of the existing force won't meet that requirement," said Joe Guyton, airline security coordinator in Honolulu. "On the other hand, this could be a great incentive for them to speed up the citizenship process."

Current security and baggage screeners will be encouraged to apply for the jobs, which will fall under the newly created Transportation Security Administration, said Federal Aviation Administration Pacific representative Tweet Coleman.

The federal security and baggage screening jobs will pay between $25,000 and $30,000 a year, including a 25 percent living allowance, said Coleman.

Many of the screeners in Hawai'i, who work for private companies including International Total Services, Wackenhut Corp. and Freeman Guards, make $8 an hour or less.

In some areas, including Los Angeles, Dallas and New York, as many as 70 percent of the current security personnel may not be able to meet those standards.

"We're probably going to lose a lot of good workers, too," said Guyton, whose position is paid for by airlines in Hawai'i.

Even the higher pay and tougher standards may not be enough to guarantee efficiency. Nationwide, officials say it takes a special set of psychological skills to stay focused, hour after hour, on thousands of pieces of innocent baggage while searching for one that might be dangerous.

The New York Times reported yesterday that the ideal recruits for one of the new 28,000 positions nationwide might be an older widow with a knack for finding things lost in a cluttered room or a younger man who likes building model airplanes.

"It takes a high degree of training," Guyton said. "I hate it when someone makes fun of our security just because they are private security guards. They do a great job day after day."

Although the law requires changes to begin within 60 days, Coleman and Guyton said it may take a little longer to fully implement the federal security system. The changeover has to be completed by end of 2002.

The most noticeable changes for Honolulu passengers may be an extra charge and delay caused by the pre-boarding inspection of all checked bags.

The process, which has been in place for international flights leaving Honolulu for several years, probably will be in place for domestic passengers early next year, Guyton said.

Honolulu International Airport already has seven of the $1 million CTX-5500 explosive detective systems, which screen baggage on international flights.

The machines, developed using technology that originated with hospital CAT-scan machines, check each piece of luggage twice, once for the chemical signature of explosive materials, and once with a more common X-Ray.

Most of the luggage is cleared within a few minutes, Guyton said. If the machine senses the presence of any explosive material, a computer alerts the screener and the bag is manually searched.

Many of the alerts turn out to be false alarms. Even a pineapple can have a chemical signature similar to an explosive device, he said.

Other airports in Hawai'i probably will rely on a manual search of baggage, Coleman said.

The new federal agency will be financed by airline passengers, who will pay a minimum of $2.50 and a maximum of $5 per one-way trip.

In Hawai'i, the lower charge, which will be included in the purchase of a ticket, probably will apply to Neighbor Island flights, Coleman said.