Charlotte City Council is told of airport's plan to improve security


March 01--Charlotte/Douglas International Airport will increase airport police staffing, make "structural improvements" to property and enhance its electronic security, according to an investigation after the death of an apparent stowaway in a US Airways jet wheel well.

On Monday night, City Manager Curt Walton and Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Chief Rodney Monroe read the Charlotte City Council a summary of their investigation, which they said couldn't be released because it was classified by the federal government.

A three-page summary said CMPD found "various locations" where 16-year- old Delvonte Tisdale might have breached security and gained access to the plane, a Boeing 737-400 headed to Boston on Nov. 15.

The summary said the investigation focused on a particular area of the airport "in combination with an identified aircraft," though it didn't say what part of Charlotte/Douglas was scrutinized.

The flight to Boston -- Flight 1176 -- left Charlotte/Douglas on the night of Nov. 15 from runway 18L, which is at the northeast part of the airport, near the Carolinas Aviation Museum, according to the flight tracking service FlightAware.

US Airways employees have told the Observer they believe Tisdale likely climbed inside the wheel well while the plane was taxiing.

CMPD wasn't able to answer some of the most puzzling questions in the Tisdale case, such as why the North Mecklenburg High student decided to stow away on the plane and how he got to the airport.

The summary said investigators did "countless interviews," reviewed highway cameras, cab and bus manifests and video, and "did not produce any evidence of his mode of transportation."

CMPD examined airport video surveillance cameras, perimeter fencing and gates, and interviewed airport security personnel.

US Airways employees have also speculated that Tisdale climbed over the perimeter fence, which is 6 feet high and topped with three strands of barbed wire.

In an interview with reporters after the presentation, Monroe said CMPD knew where and how Tisdale entered the airport, though he declined to elaborate. When asked whether Tisdale might have had help from an airport employee, Monroe declined to comment.

Some U.S. airports have strengthened their perimeter fencing after 9-11 by adding motion sensors, more barbed wire and more video cameras on the perimeter.

Aviation director Jerry Orr, who wasn't at Monday night's meeting, has declined to discuss the airport's existing security. But public documents have said Charlotte/Douglas has more than 300 security cameras throughout the inside and outside of the airport.

The Transportation Security Administration is also investigating the case.

In February, during a congressional hearing on airport security, U.S. Rep William Keating told Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano that the Tisdale case "raised enormous concerns about aviation safety."

Keating was the district attorney in Massachusetts who investigated Tisdale's death in November.

"Clearly if somebody -- a 16-year-old -- is able to circumvent (our) standards and requirements and get into the wheel well of a plane, there has been a breakdown," Napolitano said.

After the district attorney in Norfolk, Mass., said in December that Tisdale stowed away inside a jet from Charlotte, Orr said the airport wouldn't make any special review of airport security.

The next day, the city reversed itself and announced that CMPD would form a task force.