FAA unsure when Wednesday flights will be allowed to resume

Associated Press Writer

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Federal Aviation Administration officials prepared to allow air flights to resume sometime Wednesday, but did not know when they would give the green light.

FAA spokeswoman Diane Spitaliere said agency officials were deciding when to allow planes to take off, and they may not make an announcement until after noon EDT, as originally planned.

Another spokesman, Les Dorr, said people should not expect all flights to resume normal travel, since many planes are at the wrong airports.

"I think it is fair to say there is not going to be a mass exodus of planes and passengers that have been on the ground because some of the airlines have airplanes that are literally in the wrong place to fly their schedules," Dorr said.

He declined to discuss increased security measures, but said, "Passengers should expect to have to devote more time to the check-in process."

When flights resume, passengers won't be able to check their bags at the curb, they will be subjected to random checks, they will see more uniformed security and they should arrive even earlier.

Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta said he is acting to augment airline security after Tuesday's terrorist attacks in New York City and Washington, which began with the hijacking of four commercial airliners.

"There will be higher levels of surveillance, more stringent searches," Mineta said. "Travelers may experience some inconveniences, but we ask for your patience. We must do whatever it takes with safety as our highest priority.

Dorr advised passengers to call their airlines before going to the airport, to make sure flights are taking off on time. Many pilots did not finish their runs on Tuesday, choosing instead to land at the nearest airport after the FAA halted all plane traffic.

Around the country, horrified would-be passengers watched the drama unfold on airport television screens.

"It's absolutely stunning. I think it's an act of war," said June Locacio, 58, standing at a bar at Lambert Airport in St. Louis.

At Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport, long lines developed at pay phones to call friends and family.

"Someone is trying to make a serious statement, and I hope we do likewise," said Scott Gilmore, 55, who had planned a trip to Washington, D.C., before all flights were canceled.

The FAA also increased airport security after the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 in 1988 and the crash of TWA Flight 800 in 1996.

But a series of reports by Congress' General Accounting Office and the Transportation Department's inspector general found that plenty of holes remained in the aviation security net.

The GAO and inspector general found problems with low-paid airport security screeners, who must check passengers and carryon baggage, and with equipment designed to detect bombs in luggage.

"Serious vulnerabilities in our aviation security system exist and must be adequately addressed," the GAO warned in April 2000.

Inspector General Kenneth Mead reported in January that the FAA needed to improve training for airport security screeners and increase the use of bomb-detection machines. The inspector general's office said last year that airport operators and airlines often did not conduct required background checks of employees.

Mary Schiavo, a former DOT inspector general who has been warning of lax airport security for a decade, told The Seattle Times that Tuesday's coordinated attack of four flights scheduled to take off within 36 minutes of each other was "without a doubt an inside job" by terrorists who infiltrated airport security companies.

The inspector general's office announced in August that it would assess what the Federal Aviation Administration was doing to make sure airlines were thoroughly screening passengers and their baggage.

Spitaliere said the agency would be issuing new standards for training screeners.

Rep. John Mica, chairman of the House Transportation aviation subcommittee, said Tuesday he has been "concerned that we do not have in place the adequate emphasis on the right type of security nor the deployment of the right type of equipment."

"We've seen that a determined terrorist isn't going to be stopped by a metal detector and a couple of quick questions about who packed their luggage," said Mica, R-Fla. "We've got to do things that have effective results."

FAA officials said they would be reviewing security procedures, but they would not go into details.

The GAO also reported in June 2000 that airport screeners had missed as many as 20 percent of dangerous objects during tests. The agency blamed the problem on high turnover, low pay and inadequate training of staff.

There have been plenty of earlier warnings about problems with airline security. Two commissions, one formed after the terror attack on Pan Am 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, and one after the crash of TWA 800 off Long Island, N.Y., made a series of recommendations to improve airline security. Several suggestions never were followed.

"No one wants to put the proper security measures in," said Kathleen Flynn, who lost her son in the crash of Flight 103 and then served on the TWA commission.

"This is going to be the line: 'It was such a well-planned, orchestrated thing that we never could have thwarted it.' Yes, you can, if you had the proper security."


On the Net:

FAA: http://www.faa.gov

Inspector general: http://www.oig.dot.gov

GAO: http://www.gao.gov