By James Pilcher
The Cincinnati Enquirer
HEBRON - The Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport is seeking $13 million in federal security funds to upgrade an overloaded bag scanning system.
The upgrade is needed, airport officials say, because Delta Air Lines is adding two new flights to Rome and Amsterdam. Beginning May 1, the new schedule will have two fully-loaded Boeing 767-200s - which feature 252 seats - landing at about the same time.
"The system is OK as it is right now, but ... adding the bags of almost 600 more people all at about the same time could really create a capacity issue," said Chad Everett, the airport's deputy operations director. "And with the way it is set up right now, they're going to have a hard time handling it all."
The airport handled an estimated 26 million bags during 2003. That equates into nearly 3,000 an hour over a 24-hour period, although not every bag has to be screened.
Currently, many bags that do require screening must be hand-fed through explosive detection machines. The system was supposed to be fully automated by early 2003. But Congress cut funding to the Transportation Security Administration, delaying the change.
The $13 million is being sought through a request to U.S. Rep. Hal Rogers, R-Ky., chairman of the House appropriations subcommittee on homeland security.
Unlike Atlanta and some other large airports, which have separate bag sorting systems for international flights, the local airport uses a single system to check domestic and international baggage. That slows down the process for international flights, which also must have bags checked by Customs.
With the two new international flights, airport officials predict more delays and more bags failing to make connecting flights. Many U.S. airports have the same problem with their bag systems, says a top official with the company that makes most of the explosive detection machines in use nationwide.
"Congress pretty much mandated that we get all the bags screened by machine by brute force, setting a very tight deadline," said David Pillor, senior vice president of Newark, Calif.-based InVision Technologies. "So there wasn't enough time to make things automated."
Delta Air Lines, which operates its second-largest hub at the airport, acknowledges the bag screening system is at capacity and that the new international flights "could exacerbate the current situation," said spokesman John Kennedy.
"However, we're really hoping to solve this either through new systems or through proactive solutions on our own with our partners at the airport and the TSA," Kennedy said.
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