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New Security Staff Starting at 4 Airports

Safety: Federally trained passenger and baggage screeners will replace private hires at Burbank facility, among others. Officials expect minimal inconvenience.

October 01, 2002|CAITLIN LIU | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Starting today, Burbank, San Jose, Sacramento and Palm Springs airports will become the first commercial airfields in California to begin using federal security personnel to screen passengers and carry-on baggage, officials said.

The four airports join more than 100 others nationwide that received federally hired and trained screeners for some or all of their terminals, officials said. Other airports in the state, including Los Angeles International Airport, are expected to be federally staffed by Nov. 19, the mandated deadline for implementing tougher passenger-screening measures.

Together, the four airports will have 495 federal security officers, each of whom received more than 100 hours of technical and customer-service training, said David Steigman, a spokesman for the Transportation Security Administration in Washington, D.C.

Because the federal employees were subject to stricter hiring standards, passengers are likely to notice "greater professionalism, greater attention to detail" by the airports' new security staff, Steigman said.

The time it takes for passengers to walk through metal detectors and have their belongings X-rayed should be about the same, airport officials said.

"It should be seamless to the passengers," said Noelle Knell, spokeswoman for San Jose International Airport.

At Burbank-Glendale-Pasadena Airport, passengers can expect to be processed even more quickly with the opening this week of an additional screening station, bringing the total number of passenger checkpoints to four, said spokesman Victor J. Gill.

The federal screeners will replace about the same number of security staff employed by private companies contracted by the airports, Steigman said.

Nationwide, 1.4 million people applied for 33,000 screener jobs. About 19,000 are in training or have been deployed, transportation officials said.

Unlike private security screeners, many of whom are paid minimum wage, the federal workers are paid $23,600 to $35,400 a year.

To be hired, applicants must be physically fit enough to lift 30 pounds and pass an eye exam for distinguishing color--a necessity for scrutinizing items passing through X-ray machines, Steigman said.

They must also be U.S. citizens and pass a test for English proficiency at the ninth-grade level. Some civil rights groups have objected to the nationality and education criteria as being discriminatory to minorities, but Steigman said the agency employs more nonwhites, in percentage terms, than the U.S. labor pool.

Although all airports are expected to meet the deadline for improving passenger screening, many have reported they are unable to implement new baggage-screening technology in time.

Steigman said the transportation agency anticipates granting extensions to 35 to 40 airports, but declined to name them.

Although all passenger checkpoints at Burbank and Palm Springs will be staffed with federal screeners, only Terminal A at Sacramento and Terminal C at San Jose airports will receive the new personnel today. Other terminals at those facilities will be staffed by November, officials said.

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