Agency May Cut Pittsburgh International Airport Screeners

Aug. 4--At a time when local passenger traffic and peak-hour waits to clear the security checkpoint are increasing, a federal agency is planning to cut the number of employees who screen passengers at Pittsburgh International Airport.

The U.S. Transportation Security Administration intends to cut the number of full-time equivalent positions from its current 312 to 218, spokeswoman Ann Davis said yesterday. The cuts will be made through attrition, with no layoffs, she said.

No timetable for the reductions has been set.

At one time, the TSA employed 570 screeners at the airport. That number dropped to 460 by fall 2003 and has since been reduced even further over the last two years as US Airways has slashed hundreds of daily flights at Pittsburgh International.

But federal officials are targeting the airport for more cutbacks even though local passenger traffic, which involves those who utilize the checkpoint, has increased nearly 20 percent since 2003.

At the same time, waits to clear security during peak times have lengthened to half an hour or longer, prompting the county Airport Authority to authorize the spending of about $3.5 million to fast track construction of another checkpoint in the closed commuter terminal. It's expected to be ready by the Christmas travel rush.

Davis said the TSA will increase the number of full-time equivalent positions in Pittsburgh to 258 once the new checkpoint, with four additional lanes for screening, opens.

The TSA, she said, does not believe the latest cutbacks will increase wait times at the airport or diminish security.

Davis said the TSA is seeking to implement a number of "efficiencies" designed to alleviate delays at the checkpoint. The airport currently has a low number of part-time employees. By increasing the number of part-timers to work at peak times, it could help to cut delays, she said, without affecting the number of full-time equivalent positions.

The agency also is working to improve scheduling and reduce work-related injuries, both of which could affect the number of screeners available for duty.

"By introducing scheduling efficiencies and increasing the ratio of part-time to full-time screeners, there shouldn't be any adverse impact on passengers," Davis said.

The Airport Authority, which has complained about cutbacks in the past, is taking a wait-and-see stance. Authority Executive Director Kent George said the agency has assured him that it will have "sufficient staffing."

"With that assurance, we're going to monitor it closely, but we don't see any need to do anything different at this time," he said. "If we see a problem, we will immediately go to the federal security director or Washington, if we have to."

Craig Martelle, a former assistant security director who resigned amid an investigation at the airport, said he believes the latest cuts will result in longer waiting times. He said 328 screeners is a more reasonable number for Pittsburgh.

Davis would not address Martelle's comments.