[ OUR OPINION ]
THE war that began a year ago is far from over, but the wartime anxiety that paralyzed the country and devastated Hawaii's tourist industry is waning. Heightened security measures are needed to protect Americans from future attack but should not be so onerous that they infringe on civil liberties and further cripple the economy, both nationally and in Hawaii.
Nation and Hawaii
THE ISSUEThe nation's economy, including Hawaii's tourism industry, is continuing to feel the effect of the attack a year ago.
The fear of flying that swept the country following last Sept. 11 was understandable, even after security procedures were heightened at airports. People began returning to the skies as weeks passed, but then began feeling irritated by the hassle caused by security. In addition, some Japanese were reluctant to visit Hawaii while perceiving -- for too long -- America to be in mourning.
[ WE REMEMBER ]
The results have been painful to the state's economy. Last October, the number of Japanese visitors was less than half that of the same month a year earlier. While domestic tourism has rebounded nearly to pre-Sept. 11, 2001, levels, Japanese arrivals this year are less than 80 percent of what they were in 2001. The decline caused visitor spending to fall more than $325 million in the first half of this year.
Those figures should improve when aviation security gets more efficient and friendlier, and much of that responsibility will fall on the newly created federal Transportation Security Administration. Federal screeners are gradually replacing poorly paid private-sector screeners at the nation's airports, and sophisticated machines that screen checked luggage for explosives are being installed.
Federal screeners have started work at only 93 of the country's 429 airports. However, James Loy, head of the Transportation Security Administration, says federal screeners will be in place at all other airports by the Nov. 19 deadline. Hawaii's airports are among those yet to be federalized.
The Dec. 31 deadline for installation of the machines may have to be extended at some airports to avoid long waits by passengers waiting to have their baggage screened. Loy opposes extending the deadline but acknowledges that as many as 35 airports are likely to miss the deadline because of delays in procuring and installing the machines. Those airports should be given more time to comply.
Although aimed mainly at business travelers, a "trusted traveler" program allowing frequent fliers to speed through airport checkpoints could boost tourism in Hawaii. The program, endorsed yesterday by the Bush administration, will enable people to undergo federal background checks to qualify for special treatment while checking in at airports. It will be patterned after Israel's "Express Entry" program, which has reduced the check-in time at Tel Aviv's airport from two hours to 15 minutes.
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