Thursday, January 17, 2002

Remember 9-11-01

At the Honolulu Airport yesterday, Computer Tomography X-Ray operator Michelle Cui hand-checked the luggage of Mary White, who was in a wheelchair pushed by Evangeline Resurreccion. The X-ray machine can detect explosives.

More flight delays
loom as new
security kicks in

Airports must adopt high-tech
bomb-finding methods by tomorrow

By Leila Fujimori and Rod Thompson |

Hawaii's airports and airlines are better equipped to meet tomorrow's federal deadline for tougher explosives screening than many mainland airports, says a Federal Aviation Administration official.

Still, travelers might face more delays as the industry tries to comply with a federal mandate to screen all checked luggage.

Honolulu Airport has consistently ranked among the top five during its annual FAA certification among international airports for its bomb detection technology and bomb-sniffing dog unit, said Allen Agor, FAA federal security manager.

"We have more of the advanced detection technology than any mainland airport at this time," Agor said.

Last fall, Congress mandated the airlines and the government must incorporate stricter federal guidelines for matching bags to passengers and for explosive-detection machines, explosive trace detection systems and bomb-sniffing dogs.

Agor is advising passengers to contact the airlines for check-in information. Most airlines are telling passengers to follow their post-Sept. 11 guidelines.

Checked-in luggage may be subject to the explosive detection machines, which are located as stand-alone units in lobbies or may be unseen to passengers and integrated into the baggage screening used by the carriers.

Passengers are advised that high-speed film of 1,000 ASA or greater should be removed from baggage and hand-inspected to avoid damage from the machines that detect explosives.

Bags may be swabbed to detect chemical traces of bombs or components of an explosive device.

Bomb-sniffing dogs will also do their duty in some cases. The canine unit is located only in Honolulu but can be sent to neighbor island airports when necessary, Agor said.

Airlines will also employ bag-matching, where every piece of checked-in baggage on a departing flight will be matched to a passenger or the baggage will be removed from the cargo compartment before leaving the terminal.

"We know it's challenging; logistically, it's somewhat of a nightmare," Agor said.

But the practice has been done for the past 11 years on all international flights, he said.

"It is burdensome, but I don't think anyone should complain, especially the airlines who want safe flights," said Gilbert Kimura, Japan Airlines' director of sales.

Kimura anticipates the added security measures will mean additional inspection time. The airline, however, is asking passengers to check in the usual three hours prior to departure, which Kimura said should be sufficient but may have to be adjusted because of possible problems.

He said airlines will take time to perfect the process.

But Hawaiian Airlines spokesman Keoni Wagner said: "The added steps will be essentially transparent to the customer. We don't think customers will perceive any changes in the airport experience."

In Hilo, Aloha Airlines manager Beth Bartolome said her company will wipe bags with a cotton swab.

The swab will be put in a machine to test for traces of explosives.

Hilo will be the only Aloha site using that system, and only until an X-ray machine can be put into use, she said.

Both the chemical swab machine and the X-ray machine will be shared with Hawaiian Airlines for screening their passengers, she said.

Passengers will also be subject to random checks in which their bags will be opened, she said.

The inspections will mean increased delays at the airport, she said, but she could not estimate how much of a delay.

Aloha currently tells passengers to arrive at the airport at least 90 minutes before their flight, she said.

Hawaii airports will continue to ask for more screening equipment to meet the improved security demands, Agor said. The new measures may cost up to three times the existing $40 million needed statewide to deploy the FAA's bomb detection system, he said.

Those costs will eventually be passed on to customers, according to Kimura.

Japan Airlines may need to hire more manpower to employ the added steps, though they are not using more people tomorrow, Kimura said.

"Air fares will rise," he said.

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