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Tighter Security Checks Ordered for Airline Crews

December 18, 1987|DOUGLAS JEHL | Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — The Department of Transportation announced Thursday that flight crews and other aviation workers will be required to submit to security checks in the nation's airports.

The new rule, which will take effect Monday, was ordered 11 days after the Pacific Southwest Airlines disaster, which was apparently caused by David A. Burke, a disgruntled former USAir employee who smuggled a gun aboard the plane at Los Angeles International Airport.

Authorities believe that Burke, 35, shot his supervisor, a passenger on the plane, and then disabled the cockpit crew as the plane flew to San Francisco. The jet crashed in San Luis Obispo County, killing all 43 aboard.

Investigators believe Burke was allowed to bypass a metal detector when he displayed a USAir employee badge he had kept after he was fired. Under the old Federal Aviation Administration rules, employees showing identification were exempt from such security checks.

Under the new rule, said Transportation Secretary Jim Burnley, airline employees "will no longer be able to bypass the security screening system by showing an employee ID card."

Airline industry officials had lobbied for postponement, arguing that suddenly requiring that all employees be screened whenever they enter any secured area of an airport would cause backups at security stations and flight delays.

"If you think airline delays and passengers' missed connections are bad now," said Henry Duffy, head of the Air Line Pilots Assn., "see what happens if we clog the checkpoints with thousands of pilots, flight attendants, and other airline and airport employees going through the passenger checkpoints."

Federal Aviation Administrator T. Allan McArtor said that the agency expects "full cooperation from the airlines and airport authorities."

The rule change was first announced to the subcommittee on government activities and transportation of the House Committee on Government Operations. The panel has been conducting hearings this year on airport security.

General Accounting Office Associate Director Kenneth Mead testified that a 10-month investigation by the agency found widespread security problems at large airports, including inadequate passenger screening and lax control over employee identification badges.

Mead warned that the government's security procedures could not "ensure that dangerous weapons are not carried through the screening process by airport and air carrier employees and their contractors."

"By and large we see no persuasive reason why there should be bypassing of the security system," Mead said.

Subcommittee Chairman Cardiss Collins (D-Ill.), who had complained that government progress in bolstering airport security had been "too little and too late," said the Transportation Department action is "a real step forward."

The FAA was urged to tighten the security checks by members of Congress and others, including the Los Angeles Board of Airport Commissioners.

The Transportation Department is also considering requiring that employees have computer-coded badges that would allow access to only certain areas of an airport. A badge's coding could be invalidated after a worker left employment. The Transportation Department will consider the comments of airport and airline officials before deciding whether to make such controls mandatory.

The GAO's report on its security investigation that was presented to Congress did not identify the performance of individual airports for security reasons. But a congressional source said that Los Angeles International appeared to have the most porous security of the six airports studied.

At the airport, the source said, officials admitted to investigators that they could not account for about 6,000 employee security badges--about 16% of the total.

The source also identified the airport as the one where, according to the testimony, three service companies "were not tracking the retrieval of badges from employees they had terminated. These officials said they could only guess at the number of lost badges."

Stephen Yee, manager of Los Angeles International Airport, disputed the GAO's estimate of unaccounted for security badges. An internal audit found 6% to 8% of the badges unaccounted for, he said.

Yee also said a $500,000 computerized employee identification system using electronically coded cards has been approved for installation at LAX by April, 1988.

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