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As Airline Security Tightens, Industry Faces Tough Financial Battle - 2001-09-19

U.S. airline executives met Tuesday with Secretary of Transporation Norman Mineta. Secretary Mineta has said the Bush administration will work closely with the industry and congress to help maintain the strength of U.S. aviation.

One week after the worst terrorist attacks in U.S. history, the airline industry and travelers are facing major changes.

Passengers have to follow new security measures, which include thorough baggage checks and no curbside check-in.

On Sunday, the U.S. Transportation Secretary said he has designated two task forces to study ways to improve airline and airport security. “This past week requires us to develop a new system that will move people and commerce safely and efficiently," he said. "That is the mission before us.”

U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft announced the government will put more armed guards aboard airliners in hopes of preventing new hijackings. “While the FBI has always had law enforcement presence in the air, the Department of Transportation has decided to expand our law enforcement capabilities in that respect," Mr. Ashcroft said. "Each day as flights increase, we will be having additional law enforcement officials from Department of Justice as air marshals on planes in addition to the already heightened security on the ground and airports."

Reagan National Airport, outside Washington remains closed because of the security risk posed by its proximity to the Pentagon and other federal buildings.

In addition to security, the airline industry is facing financial issues as well. The industry is lobbying the U.S. Congress for a $20 billion bailout. An estimated $1 billion is lost already because of the shutdown and weak demand. Continental Airlines announced it is furloughing 12,000 employees due to flight reductions.

U.S. Airways said it plans to lay off 24 percent of its workforce and cut service. Other airlines have scaled back schedules as well, and more layoffs, up to one hundred thousand by one estimate are expected.

On Monday, Wall Street further added to the industry’s woes when stocks of major airlines and travel related companies fell sharply. These are trying times for an industry used to flying high.