Automation Speeds Airport Security at Pittsburgh Int'l

High-technology equipment and more efficient use of Transportation Security Administration personnel have made Pittsburgh International Airport a model for airports nationwide, U.S. Rep. Tim Murphy, R-Upper St. Clair, said Saturday.

Murphy invited U.S. House Aviation Subcommittee Chairman John Mica, R-Fla., to tour the airport yesterday, along with personnel from the Allegheny County Airport Authority.

Mica witnessed how automation has helped cut wait times for ticketed passengers to get through security checks to 10 minutes from roughly 45.

"My concern is the safety of the passengers," Mica told the media while touring the Landside Terminal. "You could put an army behind those counters, but would not get the efficiency and better processing of baggage as is done with automated systems."

To help handle passengers, the Airport Authority took space sitting idle in the former commuter terminal and installed four security lines, along with one of the airport's two "puffer" machines designed to find trace amounts of explosives on clothing.

"We have four lines, and we can expand here to eight lines, plus the seven lines in the Landside Terminal," said Kent George, executive director and CEO of the Allegheny County Airport Authority.

After a passenger checks in, the baggage is put on a conveyor system and then screened by machine. The use of high-tech equipment increases efficiency, reducing the need for Transportation Security Administration personnel, Mica said. The airport's South Matrix baggage screening system uses 78 percent fewer personnel than the old system, in which passengers carried their bags to machines manned by TSA employees.

"There's been a dramatic decrease in security-checkpoint wait times. The passengers certainly have seen it," Murphy said.

"In the last three years, we've learned how to manage personnel more effectively," said Joseph Terrell, federal security director for the Transportation Security Administration in Pittsburgh. "Right now, we have 290 FTEs (full-time equivalent employees), and we're comfortable with that figure."

With the success of the $14.5 million South Matrix baggage system -- funded by Federal Aviation Administration and Airport Authority -- a $9.2 million system will be installed within 18 months to handle US Airways-America West passengers, George said.

"We're hoping to get federal funds to help with that project," Murphy said.

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