BWI contractor says it was fired for reporting lapses in security

Military ammunition, missing weapons involved

October 01, 2002|By Stephen Kiehl | Stephen Kiehl,SUN STAFF

A government contractor that handled military flight arrangements at Baltimore-Washington International Airport says it has been fired because it reported lax security procedures - including missing and stolen military weapons - to airport authorities.

Gold Coast Aviation's contract with the Air Force ran out yesterday. The company provided passenger check-in and gate services for Air Mobility Command, an Air Force-run airline that operates out of BWI and transports military personnel and their dependents to assignments abroad.

Officials at Gold Coast said some military personnel left boxes of live ammunition in the international pier and bypassed a security checkpoint before boarding flights.

The officials also provided The Sun with reports from passengers about mishandled baggage that detailed two incidents since May in which 9 mm military weapons were missing or stolen.

"It's our job to process the passengers and let the Air Force know when things are going wrong," said Gold Coast President William Tresky. "They didn't want to hear it."

A spokesman for Air Mobility Command confirmed that a soldier left a box of ammunition in the airport in April but said that had nothing to do with the firing of Gold Coast, which he characterized as having done poor work.

"We believed the government could receive a higher level of service through a competitive award," said the command spokesman, who asked that his name not be used because of military regulations that prohibit it.

Over the past year, Gold Coast received 62 contract discrepancy reports from the Air Force detailing lapses in service, including 79 occasions on which passengers were not asked the required Federal Aviation Administration security questions.

Those reports contributed to the Air Force's decision to terminate the contract, the command spokesman said. The contract, which began Oct. 1 last year, was for one year with an option to extend for four more years. The contract paid $500,000 in the first year.

John White, a BWI spokesman, confirmed that Gold Coast had filed security complaints with the airport. "In each instance, we looked into it and did not find anything out of the ordinary," White said yesterday.

The first weapons incident occurred in late May, when a soldier retrieving his luggage at BWI after a posting in Kuwait found that the locks on his black footlocker and green duffel bag were missing. Also missing from the footlocker was a case containing an Army 9 mm Beretta and three ammunition clips, according to a report filed by the soldier May 30.

"I immediately informed the supervisor of the missing weapon and was told that due to the late hour I would have to return the next day," Chief Warrant Officer Christopher A. James of Lodi, Wis., wrote in the report.

He returned the next day, but the weapon had not been found. It was unclear yesterday whether it was ever recovered.

In the second incident, a soldier who flew from BWI to Aviano Air Base in Italy on July 1 reported that one of his checked bags did not arrive in Italy. The silver-colored, hard-sided suitcase contained a "9 mm military weapon," according to a report.

One week later, a Gold Coast worker found the bag behind the Air Jamaica counter in the international pier. The bag was undamaged, and the weapon was inside.

The two soldiers were traveling on Air Mobility Command flights. The command's operation at BWI transports more than 10,000 passengers a month, many to bases in England, Germany and the Mideast.

The Air Force does not fly the planes. The flights are contracted to commercial airlines, and the passenger check-in and gate services were contracted, until yesterday, to Gold Coast Aviation, based in Litchfield Park, Ariz.

In April, Gold Coast officials said, they found a box containing 60 rounds of live military ammunition in the international pier, near where airlines and the Air Mobility Command have their counters. The ammunition was turned over to the federal Transportation Security Agency, which issued a receipt for it.

Gold Coast officials also said that on several occasions, high-ranking military officers were able to bypass the security checkpoint by being escorted through the Chesapeake Lounge by military personnel stationed at the airport.

The command spokesman said yesterday that he could not respond to that charge.

Starting today, CAV International Inc. of Colorado Springs, Colo., will take over the services Gold Coast had provided.

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