Air travelers shouldn't have to stand in security lines longer than normal this summer at Birmingham's airport because of a staffing shortage, the airport's federal security director says.
''We plan to be adequately staffed,'' said Lyndel Hardy, who heads the Transportation Security Administration operation at Birmingham International Airport.
The Birmingham airport has ''very few vacancies, if any, right now.''
Hardy foresees no effect on air passenger traffic in the Magic City as the air security agency allows field directors at each airport to recruit and hire their staffs. Some airports have told TSA they fear longer lines and crowded terminals will develop this summer if they are unable to fill vacancies and become more short-staffed.
Los Angeles International said it has 2,001 screeners and 120 positions to fill. It estimates being down 300 screeners at the height of summer travel. A Wall Street Journal report indicated the Orlando airport will have three-hour waits if its vacant spots are not filled.
''There's a lot of misinformation going on out there,'' Atlanta-based TSA spokesman Chris White said Tuesday. ''I checked with everyone I know at Orlando - airport and TSA - and on our very, very worse day, we expect a 45-minute wait.''
He said TSA is confident that by moving from a centrally based hiring system to a local one, it will be able to better manage the number of employees at each airport. ''No one knows the local area better than our local officials,'' he said.
TSA Assistant Secretary Kip Hawley testified before a U.S. Senate committee April 4 that the hiring change gives each federal security director more flexibility in hiring and creating the best security system for their airports. He said the change will help with retaining quality officers.
Though TSA in March began switching from a national staffing contractor to local direct hiring, some teams haven't yet been given the staff, equipment or space to hire new screeners, the Wall Street Journal reported. Many airports, including Birmingham's, are still waiting to receive electronic fingerprinting equipment to run background checks on applicants.
''We are just getting into the process ourselves,'' Hardy said. ''We are still acquiring equipment and training our folks internally to be able to perform that function, so we haven't started bringing anybody on board locally yet. We will very soon.''
White said TSA expects all airports to receive electronic fingerprinting capabilities in the next couple of weeks.
Hardy said the goal for every airport is to have 80 percent fulltime employees and 20 percent part time and that reflects basically the air carrier industry model.
White said the 80-20 mix provides TSA the best flexibility in manning the checkpoints at a high level of activity and not manning them when there's not a lot of traffic.
''Birmingham has a headcount of 111 and they are right on time where they need to be,'' White said. ''There may be some shifting in full and part-timers depending on retirements or some leaving. They probably would be replaced by parttimers.''
Hardy said when the Birmingham airport has vacancies, they will be announced on the Internet through usajobs.opm.gov.
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