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"Smaller airports' security comes under scrutiny"


 
Thursday, October 14, 2004

Smaller airports' security comes under scrutiny; 
A bizarre incident in Crystal raises the question, but it's not agreed that
there's a problem.
The Minneapolis (MN) Star Tribune


Before Monday, no one thought of boosting security at Twin Cities- area
airports to deter incursions by impersonators of the late actor John
Belushi. 

But the security issue is glowing brighter on the public's radar after a
bizarre episode Monday night when police chased and arrested a 47-year-old
Minnetonka man at Crystal Airport. The man was dressed as Belushi's "Blues
Brothers" character. 

Crystal is one of six small reliever airports owned by the Metropolitan
Airports Commission, and most of them are much less protected than
Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport (MSP) against trespassers. Yet
the agency's staff says the smaller planes that use the relievers, as well
as MSP, account for nearly two- thirds of all metro-area flights. 

Sen. Satveer Chaudhary, DFL-Fridley, told Airports Commission officials
Tuesday that he is concerned about the level of security, especially at St.
Paul Downtown Airport and Flying Cloud Airport in Eden Prairie, which serve
corporate jets. 

"I don't want to sound alarmist," he said during a hearing of the Senate's
new aviation subcommittee, but he added that he'd like to see reinforced
gates, speed barriers and other measures. 

Could corporate jets be flown into buildings and do damage to people and
property? he asked. "It's possible; it's imaginable," he said. 

But Sen. Michael Jungbauer, R-East Bethel, disagreed. 

"I could do more damage with my Ford Explorer than most general- aviation
aircraft," he said. 

The commission is gradually adding fences, gates and surveillance equipment
at the smaller airports, which also include Anoka County/ Blaine Airport,
Lake Elmo and Airlake in Lakeville. 

Gary Schmidt, director of reliever airports, said the commission budgeted
$140,000 this year for fencing at Lake Elmo and $325,000 for fencing and
gates at Flying Cloud. Next year it could spend $100,000 to $125,000 for
similar work at St. Paul Downtown, also known as Holman Field. 

Nancy Olson, who owns Thunderbird Aviation flight-training schools at Flying
Cloud and Crystal, said that she favors installing fences and gates but that
she does not favor closing the gates during business hours because customers
might be discouraged from entering the airport. 

Although the commission has its own police force at MSP, it does not have
officers at its six relievers. In most cases, local police departments
patrol the airports. 

Crystal police Capt. Dave Oyaas said the Belushi impersonator was an
exception to the general law-enforcement picture at Crystal Airport. 

"We haven't had a problem," he said, adding that the commission "has done
some enhancements that make things a little more sound." 

He added that patrols increase when national terrorism alerts are declared. 

In Eden Prairie, two patrol officers have made a point of getting to know
the regulars at Flying Cloud, said Pat Brink, the city's communications
manager. 

"That makes it easier to spot people who shouldn't be there," he said. He
added, however, that the airport has not been a trouble spot. 

Tim Anderson, who oversees airport operations for the commission, said that
prodding by U.S. Attorney Tom Heffelfinger, an Eden Prairie resident, led to
quicker action for protecting Flying Cloud.

Anderson and Schmidt said that pilot background checks are required for
planes weighing more than 12,500 pounds and that passenger screening is done
for planes carrying 60 or more passengers. 

But much of the relievers' security depends on vigilance by airport users,
they said. The commission has started a Neighborhood Watch program to
heighten that awareness. 

In addition, Anderson told the legislators, "Pilots have a responsibility to
protect their assets" by taking such measures as locking their planes. 

Overall, he said, "I think we're ahead of the game." 


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