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"Small Montana airports await TSA decision on security services"
Wednesday, January 9, 2008
Small airports await TSA decision on security services
By Tim Leeds
The Havre (MT) Daily News
HELENA, Mont. - Preparing to board a commercial flight at the airport in
Wolf Point or half a dozen other Montana communities is a throwback to a
simpler time: no metal detector, no baggage screening and it's OK to leave
your shoes on. Travelers on Big Sky Airlines' 19-passenger planes are not
screened until reaching the usual destination, Billings Logan International
Airport, where the federal Transportation Security Administration conducts
The simplicity of these rural boardings may change. TSA coverage is being
considered for seven Montana airports in the federally subsidized Essential
Air Service system, TSA spokeswoman Sterling Payne said in a phone
interview. Payne said there is no timeline for a decision on whether to put
the TSA at the airports, which are in Havre, Lewistown, Wolf Point, Sidney,
Glasgow, Miles City and Glendive. "We're along the northern border," said
John Rabenberg, chairman of the Montana Essential Air Service Task Force.
"If we're going to fight terrorism along the northern border, shouldn't we
have TSA at the airports?" Payne said she did not have information about the
extent of TSA's presence at small airports in other states.
Havre Director of Public Works Dave Peterson, a member of the Havre
City-County Airport Board, said this morning that the board already has some
plans in place. "We went through this here a year or two ago," he said.
Security was being reviewed at the time, and the Havre City County Airport
did some planning then. Peterson said he believes most of the EAS airports
in Montana are probably in the same situation, with plans already made up.
He added that if the security is put in place, it could benefit travelers.
They would no longer have To go through security once they arrive at
Billings, as is required now, Peterson said. "It would be kind of nice for
the people travelling because once they went through the security here they
would be good for wherever they go," he said. The security would also create
a couple of new jobs at the airport, Peterson added.
The agency's review of the seven airports in Montana is long-running and
what remains in the TSA's evaluation is "just housekeeping," said Rabenberg,
of Fort Peck. At least some of the airports are likely to find the TSA
moving in this year with agency personnel or contractors, he said. In either
case, he expects the work to be just part-time, because of light passenger
traffic. Payne said that altogether fewer than 10,000 passengers passed
through the seven airports in 2006. The numbers don't diminish the need for
the TSA, Rabenberg said. "We're sitting on our thumbs if we think this can
continue the way it has been," he said. "We've been very lucky" not to have
had a security incident.
In Wolf Point, the terminal at L.M. Clayton Airport recently expanded by
about 20 percent, making room for eventual TSA operations, airport manager
Rick Isle said. At the Sidney airport, "we're expecting people to come in
and draw blueprints this month" to prepare for the agency's arrival, manager
William J. Henderson said. The request for TSA coverage at the airports
originated with Big Sky Airlines, spokeswoman Molly Bare confirmed. Once
passengers arrive at Billings Logan, airline personnel take them and their
luggage to security checkpoints before connecting flights may be boarded.
The system is "a headache for passengers and for our staff," Bare said. TSA
coverage also is desired by Great Lakes Airlines, which is preparing to take
the place of Big Sky at the seven Montana airports in February, said Chuck
Howell, chief executive for the Wyoming-based carrier.
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