Faster Bag-Screening Method Coming to ONT

A long-delayed plan to speed the screening of checked baggage at Ontario International Airport should soon get under way. The Board of Airport Commissioners has approved a construction contract for an in-line baggage-screening system at ONT -- three years after federal grant money was first made available for it.

"We still have a couple of administrative wickets" to go through before the project commences, said Jim Ritchie of Los Angeles World Airports, the agency that operates ONT. "We should start work after the first of the year."

The new system involves moving the large explosive-detection machines, currently located in ONT's downstairs terminal lobbies, to behind the ticketing counters. Construction of the new system is expected to finish in early 2009.

With the new arrangement, travelers who are checking luggage will be able to leave their bags with ticketing agents and head straight to the next security line after checking in -- instead of standing in an additional line to deliver their luggage to the official running the explosive-detection machine.

That extra line for travelers who check baggage can add as much as a half-hour to wait times on busy days, because the explosive detectors process bags more slowly than the X-ray machines used for carry-on items.

In addition to saving time for travelers, the new arrangement should reduce the airport's security costs.

Since screening checked bags in the lobby requires more staff, airports that install a fully automated system can save millions of dollars annually, said Theresa Coutu of InVision Technologies, a firm that makes explosive-detection machines.

"Payback on the infrastructure investment required to provide in-line systems ... would be (in) less than one year," Coutu testified at a House Aviation Subcommittee hearing in 2004.

The project will cost $55 million, most of which will go toward construction costs.

Of that amount, about $21 million will be reimbursed by the federal government, Ritchie said.

The Department of Homeland Security announced a $250 million grant in 2003 to install the system at Los Angeles International Airport and ONT.

But redesigns and other delays kept the system from being installed at either airport. Meanwhile, dozens of other airports around the country -- including Denver International, McCarran International in Las Vegas, San Jose International and Dallas/Forth Worth International -- have already installed similar systems.

A recent decision by the Transportation Security Administration also should help reduce lines at the airport.

Earlier this week, the TSA loosened its ban on liquids in carry-on baggage, allowing a small number of fluid containers that hold less than three ounces each.

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