US authorities take over airport security

War on Terrorism: Aviation Bill
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The Independent US

In an attempt to increase public confidence in the safety of the skies, Congress passed an aviation security bill yesterday that will make the 28,000 baggage screeners and supervisors at US airports into federal workers, directly employed by the government.

In an attempt to increase public confidence in the safety of the skies, Congress passed an aviation security bill yesterday that will make the 28,000 baggage screeners and supervisors at US airports into federal workers, directly employed by the government.

The agreement comes after weeks of resistance by a hard-core bloc of Republicans who are ideologically opposed to any expansion of the federal government. They had demanded screening be entrusted to private companies, operating under federal guidelines.

But public opinion, not to mention the entire Senate and every Democrat on Capitol Hill, was overwhelmingly against them, and the crash of American Airlines flight 587 in New York on Monday, though almost certainly not a terrorist attack, was the last straw.

With clamour for a bill becoming deafening, the Republican minority caved in, forced to content itself with a promise that after three years, airports would have the right to opt out and return to private screening if they wished.

Passage of the bill clears the way for President George Bush to sign the measure into law before next week's Thanksgiving holiday. Thanksgiving is traditionally among the busiest travel periods, although many people have decided to stay home this year, and the financially strapped airlines are operating 20 per cent fewer flights than in 2000.

The measure will cost $2.5bn (£1.7bn) a year, to be paid for by a passenger levy of $2.50 per trip. But that sum pales beside the losses of the commercial airlines, some of which have been up to $15m a day.

Previously, airport security was largely in the hands of the airlines, whose incentive was to get the job done as cheaply as possible to keep down overheads. Some 90 breaches of airport security have been reported since 11 September.

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