BWI working to address shortage of passenger, baggage screeners

Latest security initiatives focus of airport meeting

February 03, 2004|By Jeff Barker | Jeff Barker,SUN STAFF

Baltimore-Washington International Airport is working to address a shortage of federal screeners that could inconvenience passengers during the busy spring travel period if it is not eliminated soon, state transportation officials said yesterday.

"We're looking to increase in the range of 10 to 15 percent," Paul J. Wiedefeld, executive director of the Maryland Aviation Administration, said yesterday.

Wiedefeld was interviewed after he and other transportation and homeland security officials briefed members of Maryland's congressional delegation on the progress of the airport's latest security initiatives.

The lawmakers were told that the U.S. Transportation Security Administration is working to get BWI up to its full complement of passenger and baggage screeners. The shortages aren't being felt yet because the immediate post-holiday season is generally a slow travel period.

But "we're going to have peak travel periods coming up in the spring, and we want to make sure we have adequate numbers. We're entitled to more screeners," Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin, a Maryland Democrat, said after the briefing.

TSA is trying to remedy the shortage, which it says has not compromised security.

"The word has been out for quite a while about hiring part-timers at Baltimore and, maybe a week and a half ago, we put out the word that we were now hiring full time," said TSA spokeswoman Chris Rhatigan.

The shortage resulted mostly from attrition and from the increasing volume of passengers at BWI, which is growing faster than U.S. airports as a whole, state transportation officials said.

A federal hiring freeze on the screeners was lifted in October, Rhatigan said.

Full-time screeners make $23,600 to $35,400 a year. They are required to have a high school education or its equivalent and be proficient in English.

The lawmakers were also briefed yesterday on a new program designed to foil terrorists and keep closer tabs on the comings and goings of those with foreign visas. BWI is the nation's first airport to test the new system, under which foreign visitors are fingerprinted on arrival and before they leave the United States.

Cardin said he agreed with the program's goals but that "the jury is out" on its effectiveness and how smoothly it is being run.

It was a coincidence that yesterday's briefing was held after seven flights at other airports were canceled, including one from Washington Dulles International to Houston, because of concerns about possible terrorism, said Dennis R. Schrader, director of the state's homeland security office. He said there were no specific threats to BWI.

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