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Reimbursement urged for airport security
KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- The federal government should pay for increased security installed at airports have since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, an airport commissioners group said Tuesday.
The request heads a list of recommendations for Congress, drafted at a two-day session attended by policy-making officials from about 20 airports around the nation, members of the U.S. Airport Commissioners' organization.
About 80 people from airports as large as Los Angeles International and as small as Knoxville, Tenn., met to discuss issues related to security and the impact of the sharp decline in air travel since the attacks.
"Our message is that federally mandated security requirements should be federally funded with direct reimbursement," said Teresa Loar of Kansas City, whose duties as a member of the City Council include helping set policy for Kansas City International Airport. "So far we have received zero funding for all the mandates that came down from the FAA and from Congress."
"We've been implementing as we can, trying to do the right thing and what we should be doing," she said. "But it's literally draining our coffers on the local level."
Loar said the money should not come from the airport improvement project trust fund, which helps airports with capital projects such as renovation and expansion.
She said commissioners envisioned that the money for security might need to come first from general federal funds and then perhaps from a security fee added to the cost of airline tickets.
One way or another, the tighter security is going to cost the people who fly.
If the federal government doesn't provide reimbursement, airports will have to raise the costs they charge airlines for space rental and landing fees, said Tom Jensen, a commissioner of the Knoxville airport and president of the National Safe Skies Alliance, a co-sponsor of the two-day meeting.
"Those fees will all go up to cover that cost," said Jensen. "So they will wind up being paid by you and me, the traveling public."
Warren Valdry, vice president of the commission that runs Los Angeles International Airport, said funding for security deserves highest priority.
"It destroys your community once you put mandates on and there's no means of paying for them," Valdry said.
He said the terrorist attacks led to a loss of about 10,000 jobs at and around the Los Angeles airport. He said the heavily used airport, which had about 70 million passengers pass through it last year, saw the number of flights drop at first to about 75 percent of normal volume.
"I think it's going to come back," he said. "It's coming back already; we're at about 80 percent now."
The commissioners want responsibility for aviation security to stay with the Department of Transportation rather than be moved to some other agency like the Justice Department.
"Aviation is about transportation, not law enforcement, so we want to continue to have airports being governed by the Department of Transportation," Loar said.
However, the group proposed moving the responsibility up a notch within the department, from the Federal Aviation Administration to a newly established post of under secretary of transportation for aviation security.
"It's very difficult dealing with one federal department," said Jensen. "When you have two or three, they get in turf battles. We're always going to be dealing with the Department of Transportation because we're in the transportation business. So it doesn't make much sense to bring in another department to handle the screening and security function."
Other recommendations include flexibility on the new rule prohibiting parking within 300 feet of an airport terminal, which commissioners say has hurt parking fee revenue for many airports.
The commissioners also want the federal government to make sure airports are able to maintain insurance coverage for catastrophic financial losses due to war or terrorism.
Loar said most airports had their war risk insurance cancelled right after Sept. 11, and that since then the cost has become prohibitive.