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US Congress Approves Air Travel Safety Bill - 2001-11-16

The U.S. House of Representatives, by a 410-9 vote and the Senate by voice vote, Friday passed legislation designed to make air travel safer following the September 11 hijack attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon. A deal reached Thursday on the status of airport baggage screeners cleared the way for passage. The measure now goes to President Bush for his signature.

The legislation called for more air marshals on flights and fortifying cockpit doors.

It also called for ending the current system of having private contractors screen baggage, after a series of recent security breaches in which weapons were allowed to pass through airport gates, and in some cases, onto airplanes.

Within a year, trained federal employees will take over the screening process. After another two years, airports would have the option of returning to having private firms do the inspections.

It is a compromise between a measure passed in the Democratic-led Senate requiring screeners to be federal employees, and a bill passed in the Republican-led House that would have kept inspectors in the private sector but under federal supervision.

Republican Senator John McCain of Arizona said the legislation will help reassure Americans that air travel is safe. "When the president of the United States signs this bill, looks at the American people and says 'we have now embarked on an all-out effort to do everything your government can to make you safe and secure,' I think that will be a major, major impact on the American people and will move forward in restoring the confidence of the American people," he said.

House Transportation Committee Chairman, Republican Don Young of Alaska, agreed. "It is the best security bill this nation has ever had for the flying public," he said.

The legislation called for a small fee to be added to the price of airline tickets to help fund the security enhancements.