U.S. aviation workers and officials say there remain major security problems at the country's airports. Speaking at a Senate hearing in Washington Wednesday, they said changes to improve security since the September 11 suicide hijackings have proven insufficient.
Flight attendants, pilots, airport directors and government officials say there are still too many cases of weapons being carried onto U.S. airliners, increasing the risk of new attacks. In one incident this week, a man in Miami boarded a plane carrying two meat cleavers. He was arrested in Chicago where he was trying to connect to another flight.
Captain Duane Woerth, the president of the Airline Pilots Association, is calling for new security standards at all the country's airports. "It is inconsistent, even illogical - some of the security screening practices - which are doing very little for security and are in fact eroding the confidence the traveling public has in the current security system," says Mr. Woerth.
Changes, such as reinforced cockpit doors, placing more air security marshals on flights and national guard troops in airports are helping alleviate fears.
However, given the ongoing security problems, flight attendant Jacqueline Mathes says more needs to be done in case an armed terrorist does get on board. "I think flight attendants would like some line of self-defense training so that we could protect ourselves and have some knowledge and background training on how to go at a situation," she says. "At this point we have just basic and minimal training for hijacking and up until September 11 we always planned that airplane would land."
Flight attendants, pilots and passengers do have reason for concern. At the same hearing, the inspector general for the U.S. Transportation Department, Kenneth Mead, said fewer than 10 percent of checked bags at U.S. airports are inspected for bombs.
All those testifying said legislation is quickly needed to improve and standardize security at the country's airports.
Democratic Senator Joe Lieberman, the chairman of the committee, agreed, saying the bill is needed to get Americans back on planes and in the process also give a boost to the U.S. economy. "Aviation security also means economic security and economic growth so passage of the aviation security legislation, I think, both in direct terms and in its psychological effect is one of the best things we can do to help our economy grow again," he says.
U.S. House and Senate lawmakers are currently negotiating a compromise on two competing bills. The main distinction is that the Senate bill would make all airport screeners federal government workers, while the House bill would keep them in the private sector.