Despite pressure from airports, US air security czar James Loy has announced he will not extend the heavily criticised year-end deadline for full bag screening.
However, Transportation Security Administration chief Loy has also moved to calm growing airline and congressional anger over some of the policies introduced by his predecessor John Magaw, who was fired in July.
In one concession, Loy says the 35 or 40 airports that could not meet the deadline will be allowed to continue with a mixture of scanning and manual checks. Although none of the airports involved has been identified, among those expected to miss the deadline are some of the busiest, such as Atlanta's Hartsfield, Denver and Dallas/Fort Worth.
While more than 90% of US airports will have bomb-scanning devices in place by the end of December, some of the largest will not because of "lost time, lost budget and very real engineering challenges", Loy told the Senate Commerce Committee, whose powerful chairman, South Carolina Democrat Fritz Hollings, opposed bills allowing the extension.
Hollings led congressional demands to oust Magaw, and Loy has taken measures to reduce the kind of consumer complaints that have been flooding congressional offices.
He has moved to reduce security hassles by dropping a rule that would not let fliers carry take-out coffee through security checkpoints and has axed the 16-year-old rule calling for ticket agents to ask travellers if they packed their own luggage.
Moving to please the airlines, Loy wants to be able to continue contracting local or state law enforcement officers to help stand guard at security checkpoints. The law at the moment requires the agency to put federal law enforcement officers at each checkpoint by 19 November, which would require hiring a large number of extra personnel.
Loy has also asked for legal power to change the amount of money airlines have to contribute to the government for security. The law requires the industry to pay $750 million a year, the same amount airlines paid for private security services before 11 September. Loy wants the TSA to be able to adjust that fee beginning in fiscal year 2005 "to reflect the most current economic conditions".
In another TSA policy change long advocated by airlines, Loy wants to work towards the creation of what he calls a "registered traveller" programme in which frequent fliers would reveal information to the government in exchange for expedited security processing. This was adamantly opposed by Magaw, who feared terrorists would join such a programme.
However, Loy insists he "absolutely endorsed the notion of a trusted traveller programme", although he concedes it is probably years away from being implemented.
Loy also distanced himself further from his predecessor by acknowledging that Congress would pass a bill allowing pilots to be armed. A battle remains over the source of funding for arms-handling training, however, which is estimated at as much as $900 million to start with and $250 million a year after that.
Source: Airline Business