Ontario, Calif., Airport Preps for Security Upgrades

A pair of security projects at Ontario International Airport are moving forward after delays at the drawing board.

Los Angeles World Airports is accepting bids for a $28 million baggage-screening system and a $10 million, eight-mile security fence upgrade to surround the airfield.

The baggage system would replace the van-sized machines placed in the ticket lobby of Ontario International as part of a security mandate following the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

For passengers, this will eliminate the need to walk checked bags from the ticket counter to the existing screening machines in the lobby, creating space in the terminals.

Such machines would instead be part of a new conveyor-fed network that would screen checked bags and speed them to waiting planes. Bags would be checked at the ticket counter, much like the days before the terrorist attacks, then go behind the scenes, with the explosives-detection equipment moved to newly constructed areas of the terminals or possibly underground screening site.

The original timeline called for the project to begin construction last winter. Instead the projected start date was pushed back to October as LAWA officials developed the framework for design, construction and funding of the system, said airport spokeswoman Maria Tesoro-Fermin.

LAWA is a department of the city of Los Angeles that owns and operates Ontario International Airport and Los Angeles International Airport.

The Transportation Security Administration, a federal agency created to oversee airline security following 9/11, has pledged to pay 75 percent of the baggage system cost at Ontario and LAX. By contrast, the same system for LAX is projected to cost nearly $300 million.

LAWA has to spend the money first, and then the TSA will reimburse the department, said Nico Melendez, a spokesman for TSA. Although the security measures have been delayed due to design issues, the grants don't expire, said Melendez.

By piggybacking on Los Angeles International's grant, Ontario became the smallest airport in the nation to get TSA funds for a baggage screening system. Melendez said.

Other airports on the grant list include Seattle, Phoenix and Atlanta. TSA has earmarked nearly $1 billion to aid airports with the cost.

LAWA will bear the entire cost of a $10 million security fence. In an attempt to secure the airfields, Ontario will be ringed by barbed-wire-topped fences with room for airport police to drive patrols between them. The fence upgrade will cover the airport's eight-mile boundary.