LAX Pressured to Curb Wait Time; Long Lines Called Security Threat

With this summer expected to be the busiest travel season at LAX since the 2001 terrorist attacks, city officials questioned Wednesday whether airport security measures are adequate.

Despite assurances from officials with Los Angeles World Airports and the Transportation Security Administration, a City Council panel asked for more information on what will be done to shrink passenger lines and minimize any potential risks.

``Quite frankly, the TSA has raised more questions than it has answered,'' said Councilman Bill Rosendahl, whose district includes Los Angeles International Airport. ``With the summer travel season coming up, we need to know if we will be able to get passengers through the lines and safely onto their planes.''

Councilman Jack Weiss, who chairs the council's Public Safety Committee and has made homeland security one of his top issues, said he is disturbed by a letter from TSA officials minimizing the risk presented by having long lines of passengers outside terminals.

``That goes against everything we've been told by Rand (Corp.) and every other security expert,'' Weiss said. ``It makes no sense to say today that long lines of people outside terminals are no longer a security risk. We just want them to take a look at what is going on.''

Paul Haney, deputy executive director at LAWA, said airport officials believe they will be able to handle the 18.7 million passengers expected to use LAX this summer.

``We spent $20 million to increase the number of screening lanes from 47 to 68 and we have the manpower to cover the lanes during the peak hours,'' Haney said. ``That is not to say there won't be lines at some times, but we think it is manageable.''

Haney said there had been a problem in training and hiring screeners, but the TSA has been assured of a steady source of funding and is prepared to hire up to 50 more screeners a month.

``One of the problems we had in the past is that we would fill jobs and then stop hiring,'' Haney said. ``Now we have a steady training and hiring program so we don't have the gaps that we used to.''

A letter from Lawrence Fetter, the federal security director at LAX, said airport safety remains a top priority for the Bush administration.

``I am confident that we will enjoy a smooth operation in the following months,'' Fetter wrote LAWA officials. ``Our wait times since the Memorial Day weekend, the traditional start of the summer travel season, have been very acceptable.

``Our average daily wait times are below six minutes and we have not spiked above 30 minutes for the highest daily peak times.''

Fetter said the TSA is developing programs it believes will further reduce the lines.

Also on Wednesday, the Los Angeles City Council went on record in appealing a decision by the Federal Aviation Administration rejecting a job-training program as part of the LAX modernization plan.

The FAA ruled that airport funds could not be used for the $3 million- a-year job-training program that was added to the modernization program to overcome community objections.

The council asked the FAA to reconsider its action as well as have LAWA officials look at developing alternative training efforts.

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