Tribune Washington Bureau
WASHINGTON — Seven rural Montana airports will get security screeners once they resume commercial flights, Rep. Dennis Rehberg, R-Mont., announced Thursday.
A Transportation Security Administration official said his agency could start providing the service upon receiving 30 days notice, Rehberg said. Although TSA sent airport managers a letter last month telling them about the new service, some were worried the plan would fall apart because their air carrier — Big Sky Airlines — went out of business early last month.
Another company, Great Lakes Airlines, is negotiating to take over Big Sky’s airplane leases and plans to start serving the seven Montana airports that belong to the federal government’s subsidized Essential Air Service Program. The seven airports are located in Sidney, Havre, Miles City, Glendive, Glasgow, Lewistown and Wolf Point.
“This is a good call for the safety of the passengers and the airport employees,” Rehberg said in a statement. “However, I’m going to continue to hold TSA accountable for implementing the necessary steps in a timely manner.”
The TSA said in a statement the agency will work with the airports to determine what level of screening is appropriate.
“Each airport is required to develop a federal security program that must be approved before federal screening is provided,” the statement said.
Getting security screening at the little airports would be a big improvement, said William Henderson, manager of the Sidney-Richland Municipal Airport. Currently, air passengers leaving the airports must go through security at the Billings airport, Henderson said. That means they must walk down the airplane steps, board a bus on the tarmac and take a ride to the front of the Billings airport to get new boarding passes and to go through the security line, he said.
“The big problem was handicapped people - you had to help them get on the plane in Sidney, help them off the plane in Billings and into the bus,” Henderson said. “It was very time consuming.”
It was also unsafe, he said.
“Somebody could take one of them planes over and target something in Denver, they have enough fuel to get that far,” Henderson said.