Transportation secretary outlines plans for inspecting checked bags

Wednesday, January 16th 2002, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Airlines working with the government will meet Friday's congressionally-imposed deadline for screening all checked baggage for explosives, Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta said.

Reinforcing what the industry had said earlier in the week, Mineta said Wednesday that all checked bags would be routinely inspected by bomb sniffing dogs, equipment that can detect traces of explosives or by hand searches by security personnel. In addition, a bag will not be loaded onto an airplane unless it is accompanied by a passenger, he said.

``All of us here understand that we have entered a new era in transportation, an era in which a determined enemy has challenged one of America's most cherished freedoms _ namely, the freedom of mobility,'' Mineta told the Transportation Research Board, an industry group.

Mineta said the department would meet two other deadlines in the aviation security law: developing a new training program for security screeners, including 40 hours of classroom training and 60 hours of training on the job; and developing guidelines for training flight crews who face threats.

Mineta initially said he doubted the airlines could meet the deadline for screening checked bags but later said the department would do everything possible to meet the timetable.

Rep. John Mica, R-Fla., chairman of the House aviation subcommittee, praised Mineta's announcement.

``The measures are exactly what we called for in the law,'' Mica said. ``There may be some slight delays as far as passenger boarding but the traveling public is willing to sacrifice a little bit of time for additional safety.''

Mineta pledge to comply with congressionally-imposed deadlines for improving airline security, but said that federal officials will have to move carefully as they carry out a number of requirements.

Mineta said he told aides, ``Let's figure it out. Let's find out what has to be done because these deadlines are not negotiable. We will, again, meet this statuary deadlines. But they do not tell the whole story of what has happened.''

He said replacing the current privately-run screening force will not be easy.

``It is simply impossible to flip a switch and deploy more than 30,000 employees, all at once,'' he said. ``We will deploy ... carefully.'' Mineta said.

He said the administration hopes to complete the transition to a workforce, fully under federal supervision, at some 430 commercial airports by the end of this year.

The airline industry said earlier in the week that it would start inspecting all checked bags for explosives on Friday. The industry hands over responsibility for airline security to the new Transportation Security Administration on Feb. 17.

The airlines have long resisted efforts to make sure passengers travel with their bags, as recommended by presidential panels formed after the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 and the crash of TWA Flight 800.