Phila. airport gets money for new screening steps

20090616_inq_air16-a
Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano (left) joins Mayor Nutter, U.S. Sen. Bob Casey and U.S. Rep. Patrick Murphy after a news conference announcing the $26.6 million grant for baggage screening systems at Philadelphia International.

Philadelphia International Airport received $26.6 million in federal economic-stimulus money yesterday for construction of two new baggage-screening and explosive-detection systems.

Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said the automated bag handling would improve security, streamline check-in for passengers, and increase safety for Transportation Safety Administration employees.

"It is a more secure, more efficient, and higher-tech way to screen passengers checked bags," said Napolitano, who was at the airport for the announcement along with Gov. Rendell, Mayor Nutter, U.S. Sens. Arlen Specter (D., Pa.) and Robert Casey (D., Pa.), and U.S. Rep. Patrick Murphy (D., Pa.).

The money is part of the $787 billion American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, signed earlier this year by President Obama.

Mark Gale, acting Philadelphia aviation director, said the new baggage handling systems at the airport's international terminals would cost $50 million. The balance will be paid from airport money, primarily bond funds, Gale said.

Rendell said Pennsylvania had received more than $1 billion in stimulus money for 94 bridge, road and highway projects, 26 water-system and nine alternative-energy projects, and the start of rehabilitating 3,500 housing units.

"This is just the tip of the iceberg," Rendell said. "The government and people of Pennsylvania will wind up getting over $16 billion in stimulus funds that will be invested in our economy."

The first phase of the airport bag screening project for Terminal A-East is scheduled for completion in the spring of 2010.

A second phase will involve expansion of an airfield building for rescreening bags arriving on international flights and connecting to other U.S. cities.

When this construction is complete, Philadelphia International will have four in-line screening systems, instead of eight screening locations.

After the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, Congress mandated that all bags checked at U.S. airports be screened for explosives.

Since 2003, Philadelphia airport has had automated bag screening and explosive detection technology in the international Terminal A-West.

The new bag handling systems will be added to Terminals D and E by next summer, and to Terminals B and C within 21/2 to three years, Gale said.

"One hundred percent of bags going out are screened for explosives now. It's just in a manual fashion," Gale said.

Bob Ellis, the airport's federal security director, said the number of TSA workers needed to handle bags would drop by 50 percent - or 250 screeners - when the new equipment is installed.

TSA will still keep 1,000 employees at the airport, he said. They will be re-assigned to other locations, such as gates or the metal detectors and security locations where passengers are screened.

"We won't need the manual labor we have right now, but they will do other things at the airport," Ellis said.

On Thursday Napolitano announced $15 million in stimulus money for similar bag screening systems at San Francisco International Airport.

The economic recovery act commits more than $3 billion for Homeland Security projects through the department and the General Services Administration.

Of $1 billion allocated to the TSA for aviation security projects, $700 million will be used for screening checked bags.


 

Contact staff writer Linda Loyd at 215-854-2831 or lloyd@phillynews.com.

Continue Reading