Saturday, November 17, 2001

Remember 9-11-01

Local air travelers
generally favor bill

Federalizing airport security will
improve safety, many say

By Lisa Asato

Travelers at Honolulu Airport were generally in favor of a bill approved by Congress and sent to President Bush yesterday that would put the federal government in charge of airport security.

"If it's (for) safety, I'd go for it," said Lori Tokumaru of Hawaii Kai. "We all have families we want to go home to, and (airport security) is especially important if you're traveling with your family."

Her husband, Dan, said, "There's a lot of positives to it," such as specialized, uniform training for employees, which would replace the current patchwork of systems run by private contractors.

But some said the bill, intended to increase security since the Sept. 11 terrorist hijackings, may not go far enough.

"Just giving it to the federal government isn't a solution; it's a message of an intent to take (security) seriously," said George Janak, a tourist who was returning to Las Vegas yesterday with his wife, Dana.

Janak said government should have the oversight but should also put airport security in the hands of the military. It would be better to have the National Guard who are patrolling the airports to actually be doing the checks, he said.

In the military, Janak said, "You teach people 'This is what you do,' and they do it. They're good at that."

The bill would place about 28,000 airport baggage screeners on federal payrolls within a year, and effectively puts private contractors now doing the work out of business. But it would allow airports to opt for a return to private screeners in three years' time.

Bush has said he would sign the bill, which also aims for 100 percent bag inspection and widespread explosive-detection systems.

"This act will provide the resources needed to adequately train, supervise and retain airport screeners, who are among the first line of defense against those who plot to terrorize Americans in our skies and destroy our way of life," U.S. Sen. Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii) said in a press release.

Current airport security has been criticized for having low-paid, poorly trained employees.

Yesterday, the need for tighter security was underscored after Atlanta's Hartsfield International Airport was shut down for more than three hours as police and members of the National Guard searched for a man who bolted past a security checkpoint.

The breach did not scare Chris Palmer, who was leaving Honolulu yesterday afternoon for Hartsfield Airport.

"I have faith in the FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) and federal government that flights will be safe and the public will be safe in general," he said.

Still, he added, he supports the move to federalize airport security because he wants to see uniform standards at both small and large airports.

U.S. Rep. Neil Abercrombie (D-Hawaii) cheered the bill, saying the state's tourism industry would benefit.

"(Yesterday's) agreement is crucial for Hawaii's economic recovery," he said. "It will make flying safer and restore the confidence of the traveling public, which is a key element in reviving travel and tourism. It replaces the failed current system with federal law enforcement professionals."

Professionalism was an important factor for Dana Janak.

"It would give me a sense of comfort that people that are doing it are professionals," she said. "The people doing it now, it's because they can't get a better job."

Kenneth Mayo of Georgia said: "I wouldn't care if it was federal or private as long as it was tighter. I don't think anybody flying now has a problem with being checked."

However, he said, federalizing airport security may have one setback.

"With federal employees," he said, "it's hard to get rid of somebody if they screw up."

Reuters news service contributed to this report.

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