Mitchell Airport Shows Off New Baggage Screening Facility

June 30--Duffel bags, golf clubs, car seats, satchels, taped-up cardboard boxes, suitcases and plenty of black roller bags moved along the assembly line, like a roller coaster.

Inside Mitchell International Airport's new baggage screening facility, officials on Monday showed off the latest technology used by the Transportation Security Administration.

The new 24,000-square foot facility replaces the large scanning machines in the airport's ticketing area. Travelers checking in for flights no longer have to lug bags over to scanning areas. Instead luggage will be placed on conveyor belts behind the ticketing stations.

After ticketing, "You never see your bag again until you get to your location," said Robert Ronge, assistant security director for the TSA at Mitchell. It takes about nine minutes from start to finish as bags move at roughly 2.7 mph on 3,100 feet of conveyor belts. On any given day, 4,000 to 8,000 pieces of checked baggage pass through Mitchell.

Baggage-scanning machines placed throughout the ticketing area shortly after the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks have been removed, opening up the space for travelers. The TSA paid $21 million of the $30 million cost for the new system, with the rest coming from airlines and passenger fees. Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele said no county tax dollars were used. The facility was constructed in an area that had been an open ramp.

Fewer TSA employees will be needed to operate the new system, with work force reductions at Mitchell coming through attrition, Ronge said.

Inside the facility, suitcases travel down a conveyor belt, passing through a device that measures luggage dimensions and routes oversize bags to one side. Each bag then passes through one of four scanning machines before being routed to their flight.

Bags that require more scrutiny, which make up a very small percentage of the total passing through the airport, are sent into an adjacent screening room, where TSA employees check them and tuck notices into each suitcase opened for further screening.

The new facility has soundproof walls, padded floors for workers standing on their feet all day, and windows allowing natural light to stream in. And Vacu-Lux machines, which use suction to pick up luggage as heavy as 150 pounds, greatly reduce the number of injuries among TSA employees, Ronge said.

The new facility is part of a retrofit at Mitchell International Airport, where passenger numbers have increased for four straight months through May. In the first five months of the year, 2.72 million passengers traveled through Milwaukee's airport, a 2.8% increase over the same period a year ago, airport spokeswoman Patricia Rowe said.

Mitchell's baggage claim building is being replaced and is expected to open later this year, before the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays.

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