Saturday, May 29, 2004

Safety director: Airport humming

By James Pilcher
The Cincinnati Enquirer

HEBRON - The new head of the federal airport screening operation at the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport Friday said this summer's travel season should go smoothly here, unlike at other airports where long security delays have become the norm.

Earlier this month, the Transportation Security Administration listed 25 airports, including Cincinnati, as being on a watch list for delays and long lines, as travelers at airports such as Atlanta and Newark have suffered through two-hour waits to get through security.

"To be blunt, I was a little puzzled how we could even be lumped in with them," said Paul Wisniewski, who took over as the administration's interim federal security director for former director Terry Burgess, who is being promoted to a job in Washington.

But Wisniewski, 53, said that while the local airport's contingent of 336 full-time screeners hasn't changed, neither has its efficiency.

"There were several airports that came up as opportunities while I was in Washington, but I was always biding my time for either Cincinnati or Detroit, which is my home," said Wisniewski, who joined TSA after a stint with Northrop Grumman and a 24-year career in the Marines.

Wisniewski said Friday morning was a perfect example of what passengers can expect.

He said the longest wait time at Delta Air Lines' Terminal 3 security checkpoint was 26 minutes during the peak rush, and that came with heavy holiday traffic in conjunction with 800 to 1,000 more passengers stranded the previous night by storms that grounded several flights.

He also said the average wait during normal peak times has been 8 minutes over the past 30 days, and the worst peak time wait was 19 minutes. He said the worst wait time in the past year has been 50 minutes.

"And that was with more screeners than we have now," said Wisniewski, who acknowledged that the figures did not include "extraordinary" occurrences such as when terminals were evacuated.

He also said trainers have been briefed on the potential threats outlined by Attorney General John Ashcroft earlier this week, saying that photos of suspected terrorists have been given to all screeners.

"I've been trying to get that situational awareness down to the front-line level as much as possible," Wisniewski said.



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