[ OUR OPINION ]
RESULTS of baggage screening tests showing that Honolulu Airport was among the best at identifying dummy weapons are hardly encouraging, since terrible scores were registered at connecting airports, including Las Vegas and Los Angeles. If the tests are to be relied upon -- which would be a mistake -- they mean only that passengers may be safer on flights departing Honolulu than on those destined for here. Small comfort, and don't even count on that.
Dont get too comfortable
at the airport
Honolulu Airport registered one of the best scores in detecting simulated weapons and explosives in baggage.
Tests conducted last month by the new Transportation Security Administration found that a quarter of the fake guns and bombs in 387 instances went undetected at 32 airports. Screeners at Cincinnati, Jacksonville, Fla., and Las Vegas failed to detect at least half the weapons, while 41 percent of the weapons got past screeners at Los Angeles.
Miami had the best score at 6 percent, followed by Newark, N.J., at 9 percent and Honolulu and Fort Lauderdale, Fla., at 10 percent. The test results are not indicative of much. Agents conducted an average of only 12 tests per airport, and some had only five. Do the math: Honolulu screeners probably spotted nine of 10 weapons, Newark 10 of 11 and Miami 15 of 16.
The tests show only that the new security agency should accelerate its effort to replace private security companies conducting screening operations with a better federal work force. Federalizing the positions at the nation's 429 commercial airports is supposed to be completed by Nov. 19, but only three airports -- Baltimore-Washington, Louisville, Ky., and Mobile, Ala. -- are now staffed by government employees.
The screeners at Honolulu Airport and most other airports were hired at minimum wages so that security companies could submit low bids to win contracts offered by airline consortiums. Those contracts have been transferred from the airlines to the TSA, but the same employees are on the job.
In tests conducted before Sept. 11, fake hand grenades taped to wheelchairs were rolled through Honolulu Airport checkpoints undetected by the privately employed screeners seven of nine times. TSA officials have said that about half of the current screeners who applied for the federal positions -- and are still on the job -- failed the initial selection process.
Honolulu's airport security has been significantly increased since the war against terrorism began, but the airport's respectable score may have more to do with equipment than personnel. Honolulu Airport had more detection systems in operation than any other airport before Sept. 11 because it had been considered among 17 airports most likely to be targets for terrorists and demonstrators.
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