Airport Luggage Screening Weak, Report Says

"The bottom line is this report recognizes this is a very significant problem in the aviation industry, and it needs attention sooner rather than later," said James Bennett, president and CEO of the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority.

Bennett was also on the steering committee that put together the report.

At most airports, large-baggage screeners sit in the main concourse area clogging up terminals. They also tend to be labor intensive, requiring time to lift bags on and off the screeners.

Airports and the Transportation Security Administration want to move to more in-line automated systems, which would allow baggage screeners to operate at full capacity, increasing efficiency and enhancing security.

In the days following Sept. 11, 2001, the Transportation Security Administration received a congressional mandate to set up checked-baggage screening operations at all airports by Dec. 31, 2002. Screening machines were rushed into airports. "They stuck them anywhere they could," said Bennett

"We agree that baggage systems were not set up in the most efficient manner," said Christopher White, a spokesman for the TSA.

Add that to the increase in air travelers in the last few years, which has placed even greater demands on the system. And since August, liquids have been banned from all carry-on baggage. That has increased the number of checked bags by 29 percent, according to the Air Transport Association.

"We electronically screen every piece of checked luggage," said White. That is done with the large explosive detection machines, or small hand-held trace detection devices.

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