Thursday, September 20, 2001

Remember 9-11-01

Assign airport safety
to federal enforcers

The issue: Airport security has
been heightened in the past week,
but private security companies
remain in charge.

AIRPORT security in the United States has been the butt of mockery for years by travel industry officials in other parts of the world. The U.S. system features minimum standards imposed on security companies submitting minimum bids -- resulting in minimum wages -- to airlines seeking maximum profits. Last week's terrorist attack makes clear that airport security is a life-and-death operation that should be performed by a federal law-enforcement agency.

Hawaii's airport security is a prime example of what is wrong. The Airlines Committee of Hawaii, a consortium of carriers, pays Total Services Inc. to provide security because that company submitted the lowest bid. This may be an improvement over past years when political considerations were suspected in the selection of a security company owned by Big Island rancher Larry Mehau to do the job but not much.

Last Saturday night, a person without a ticket was discovered beyond the security checkpoints at Honolulu Airport, in violation of Federal Aviation Administration rules. The FAA fined the security company $35,000, but we expect the company to absorb the fine in its operating expenses. The airlines -- ultimately the consumers -- will pay the tab, through either higher plane fares or federal aid to the aviation industry.

After the terrorist attack, airport security has been tightened across the country. The American Society of Travel Agents recommends that travelers arrive at airports two hours before their fights. That is the norm for airports such as those in Seattle, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Atlanta and even Washington's Dulles International Airport, which is especially burdened because of the shutdown of Reagan National.

However, the Hawaii Department of Transportation advises travelers to arrive three hours before flights. Do Hawaii security employees need three hours to do what workers at other airports can accomplish in only two, or do Hawaii's airports require greater precautions, and, if so, why? No explanation has been offered by Brian Minaai, the department's director, who seems to have gone into hiding. Minaai may feel uncomfortable being in a law-enforcement role, and that is understandable because his job is for a transportation specialist.

"Money clearly was an issue with turning the airport security over to the airlines," says Raymond W. Kelly, former U.S. Customs commissioner who was named Sunday to a new federal commission on airport security. "It doesn't take a genius to figure out they are a profit-making organization, and they are going to cut costs in any way they can."

Break in teacher
contract battle

The issue: The state agrees to
give teachers raises now while awaiting
the labor board's ruling about a
disputed bonus provision.

Governor Cayetano's sensible decision to put into effect pay raises and other undisputed provisions of the public school teachers contract breaks the huge logjam that had formed in the conflict between the teachers union and the state. That the state will not appeal whatever ruling the Hawaii Labor Relations Board makes about the contested professional bonuses in the contract also is a commendable move.

These steps clear the way for teachers and the Department of Education to concentrate on their primary duties of educating Hawaii's children.

After a prolonged strike by the Hawaii State Teachers Association and the months of contentious debate about the bonus provision, teachers will finally get a bigger paycheck and the department can move unencumbered in its efforts to comply with court-ordered special education requirements.

The news is also a bright spot in the gloomy public atmosphere touched off by the terrorist attacks last week and, if teachers spend, may even inject blood into the state's sickly economy.

The dispute over the advance-degree bonuses had the state contending that the provision had been negotiated for one year while the union said it was for two. If not for Cayetano's decision, the bitter battle would likely have continued for months as the HSTA took its case to the labor board and both sides pledged to appeal rulings to the courts if the board did not decide in their favor.

What motivated the state to ease off in the stalemate is unclear. It may be that more urgent matters -- the nation's security and the dire economic repercussions of the attacks -- overshadowed the contract fight. It also may have been that in the weeks since the matter was placed before the labor board, both parties have had time to chill out and realize that little was to be gained from a prolonged struggle.

Whatever the reason, the decisions relieve one worry when there are many others confronting the state and the citizenry. It's time to move on.

Published by Oahu Publications Inc., a subsidiary of Black Press.

Don Kendall, President

John Flanagan, publisher and editor in chief 529-4748;
Frank Bridgewater, managing editor 529-4791;
Michael Rovner,
assistant managing editor 529-4768;
Lucy Young-Oda, assistant managing editor 529-4762;

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