New year brings new PDX security

Explosive detectors will help meet rule to screen all luggage

After a year marked by federal security deadlines, Portland International Airport is beginning 2003 with three new $1 million CTX scanners that will screen baggage for explosives.

Another of the hefty machines will be come on line at PDX early in the new year.

Effective today, all 429 commercial airports in the nation must screen every piece of luggage, whether checked or carried aboard.

Besides the scanners, PDX security staff will be employing two other explosives detection systems: trace detectors, which use wands that pick up any smidgens of explosive from the outside of bags, and the trusty noses of three dogs, members of the airport's canine unit.

About a dozen more trace detectors are parked in the terminal, waiting for installation. They will join the unspecified number of trace detectors already working at the airport.

Port of Portland spokesman Steve Johnson said the port, which owns and operates PDX, expects the federal Transportation Security Administration to cover the multimillion-dollar cost of buying and installing the new equipment.

The airport installed two scanners, each about the size of a 20-foot shipping container, before the 9-11 terrorist attacks; adding the four additional machines required reinforcing the terminal to support their weight.

The modified CAT scanners measure the density of material but not its chemical composition. The technology has been criticized for being unreliable, but defenders say it's the best technology now available.

Welcome to flying, 15 months after the Sept. 11 attacks. Portland's airport is decked out for the season, but there are disconcerting reminders of how things have changed.

For example, a glass display case in the corridor between the airline ticket counters and the main part of the terminal is filled with a display of forbidden items for carry-on luggage, from box cutters and knives to screwdrivers, backpacking stoves, sparklers, hairspray, matches and nail polish remover.

The newly created Transportation Security Administration, which oversees airport safety, has a four-page list on its Web site that specifies which items can be in carry-on luggage and which can be put in checked luggage.

It also lists the things Ñ from blasting caps and dynamite to lighter fluid, strike-anywhere matches, chlorine, liquid bleach and tear gas Ñ that aren't allowed on commercial airliners.

Going through the initial security checkpoint, which includes an identification check before passengers reach the X-ray machines, has turned into a plastic-tub experience: fliers are told to put their coats into the tubs and to take their laptops out of their cases.

TSA screeners were working at PDX by October, well ahead of the Nov. 19 deadline for transfer of the security chore from private contractors to federal employees.

In Portland, the changeover prompted a class action lawsuit charging discrimination in hiring the new workers.

The suit was filed by former Huntleigh USA Corp. employees who were not retained by the TSA. It will get its first federal court hearing Jan. 9.

The rejected Huntleigh workers included women, members of ethnic minorities, people older than 45, and veterans who should have received hiring preference.

Meanwhile, passenger volumes at PDX have yet to climb back to pre-Sept. 11 levels. They still reflect a downturn of 13 percent to 14 percent.

During the fiscal year that ended last June 30, about 12.1 million passengers moved through the airport, down from 13.6 million the previous year; in fiscal 2000, the port had a record high 13.8 million passengers.

Parking revenue is down, although the port has reopened 1,100 parking spaces adjacent to the terminal in the airport's short-term parking garage.

'People are picking up and dropping off passengers in the roadway rather than coming into the building,' Johnson said, a shift he attributes to the fact that people no longer can accompany passengers to the boarding area.

'In spite of a lot of challenges, we did have terrific news this year,' Johnson said, citing the startup of regular Air China Cargo flights from Portland to China, as well as the announcement that Lufthansa will begin nonstop service from Portland to Frankfurt, Germany, on March 31.

In addition, the port is having what he called 'productive discussions' with Mexicana about the possibility of establishing nonstop service from Portland to Mexico.

PDX lost its only direct flights to Mexico this year when seasonal charter operator Transat, a Canadian company, opted not to continue flights from Portland to Cancun.

Contact Jeanie Senior at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..