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Not All US Airports Will Meet Baggage Security Deadline - 2002-09-10

A Bush administration official says, not all U.S. airports will meet this year's deadline to screen all passenger baggage. The testimony came during a Senate panel hearing to assess improvements in aviation security since the hijacking attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon one year ago.

Transportation Security Administration head James Loy admitted to the Senate Commerce Committee that some 35 airports would not meet an end-of-the-year deadline to install baggage screening machines. But he said most airports would meet the target date, set by a law passed by Congress and signed by President Bush earlier this year.

"The December 31 deadline for baggage screening will be met in 90-plus percent of 429 commercial airports," Mr. Loy said. "There are some among the balance, where lost time, lost budgets and very, very real engineering challenges make it virtually impossible to make that deadline."

But that was not good enough for Republican Senator John McCain of Arizona, who spoke for many lawmakers on the committee. "We are a little disappointed, when we see the kind of lack of response on this issue," he said.

Seeking to ease lawmakers' concerns, Mr. Loy recommended that at those airports not able to meet the deadline, baggage be searched by hand and bomb-sniffing dogs until bomb-detection machines are in place. He suggested Congress grant waivers to airports that will not be able to comply with the law.

Mr. Loy said his agency is struggling to meet the deadline, in part because Congress cut its budget request this year from $4.4 billion to $3.85 billion.

He says the administration is seeking an additional $546 million from Congress to finish the job.

Mr. Loy said he is opposed to House-passed legislation delaying the baggage screening deadline by a year, saying explosive detection devices must be deployed as soon as possible.

On a more positive note, Mr. Loy said the government will meet a November 19 deadline for hiring some 30,000 airport screeners. He cited other progress, including the reinforcement of cockpit doors and the presence of armed marshals on many commercial flights.