Airline can't afford upgrade

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Just as it has announced a sweeping plan to cut costs to combat surging fuel prices, Delta Air Lines has backed out of a $3 million plan to help upgrade the baggage sorting system at the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport.

Airport officials recently received a $13 million bid to automate its baggage screening system. But with the region's dominant carrier backing out, they are asking the contractor to revise his offer to include work Delta was originally going to cover.

Airport officials are asking the federal Transportation Security Administration (TSA) - which has already pledged $9.1 million to cover the airport's construction costs on the project - to also cover the shortfall.

• Delta cancels flights for wire inspections

Delta officials say they will support the airport's effort to find baggage funding.

TSA officials say they will evaluate the request.

Airport officials say whatever isn't covered by the TSA may ultimately have to be paid for by the airport from its revenues collected through passenger facility charges. The user fee is currently $4.50 per passenger boarding at CVG.

"Delta made a business decision," said spokesman Ted Bushelman.

The Hebron airport's current baggage screening system - in place since 2002, when more intensive screening was required in the wake of the 9/11 attacks - requires several TSA workers to manually pick bags from Delta's Terminal 3 off a conveyer belt and put them on another belt to be screened.

Airport officials say the system, located in the basement of Concourse B, is inefficient and causes a number of workplace injuries, when TSA workers lift bags from one belt to another.

Another critical problem is that with the capacity to screen and load only 1,070 bags per hour and peak traffic hitting 1,325 bags per hour, more than 20 percent of bags miss being loaded onto their flights.

Once completed, the project will increase the airport's capacity to screen as many as 2,400 bags per hour.

Conveyor belts and screening equipment will be reconfigured so bags won't need to be lifted and loaded during the process - allowing TSA workers to focus on screening bags instead of jostling with them.

Delta originally was going to cover the costs of a new control system.

Airport officials say they expect a revised bid to be back before the Kenton County Airport Board for approval in May or June. If approved, work could begin in August and take roughly 12 to 18 months to complete.

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