Upgrade to California Airport Baggage Screening System Delayed

Oct. 18--ONTARIO -- Redesigns and other delays have kept a new baggage screening system from being installed at Ontario International Airport, despite the availability of federal grant money for the project.

The Department of Homeland Security announced a $250 million grant in September 2003 to install permanent explosives detection systems at ONT and Los Angeles International Airport.

The project for Ontario is part of the same contract to install a similar screening system at LAX. Ontario's portion of the project will cost $53 million.

The plan was to move the screening of checked baggage behind the ticketing counters, rather than leaving them in terminal lobbies -- where the bulky, slow-moving machines cause long lines for passengers.

At the time, it was expected the projects would be completed by now. But unanticipated design concerns have kept construction work from even beginning.

"Basically, there was a redesign on the system," said ONT spokeswoman Maria Tesoro-Fermin.

Officials now expect to start construction on the project in April and finish in August 2008.

The delay means not only will travelers continue to face crowding in the terminal lobbies, but that the airport will incur higher security costs as well.

Because screening checked baggage in the lobby requires more security staff, installing a fully automated screening system can save airports millions of dollars annually, said Theresa Coutu of InVision Technologies, a firm that makes explosives detection systems.

"Payback on the infrastructure investment required to provide inline systems to small hub-sized airports would be less than one year," Coutu testified at a House Aviation Subcommittee hearing last year.

Following the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, Congress mandated that 100 percent of checked baggage be screened for explosives by the airports.

As a result, many airports installed detection and screening systems in terminal lobbies in order to meet the deadline of Dec. 31, 2002, for full screening.

Those machines prompted concerns about increased wait times and crowding, which can pose a security risk if more people are crammed into a small area. In 2003, the Department of Homeland Security announced numerous grants to install systems at U.S. airports where baggage would be automatically screened as it moves along conveyor belts behind terminal counters.

Projects have already been completed at Denver International Airport, McCarran International Airport in Las Vegas, Boston Logan International, Dallas Forth Worth and Tampa International Airport.

Although ONT is behind the curve on installing those systems, travelers interviewed Friday were not concerned about the delay.

Cory Williams, who was flying to Las Vegas, said the line at the Southwest terminal wasn't as long as the ones he'd seen at other airports.

"It doesn't bother me," he said before dropping off his bags. "With all the stuff that happened on 9/11, they've got to be conscious of security."


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