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Fliers, airline industry absorb the cost of increased security

Who pays for safety at PDX Ñ and why Ñ remains moving target

Take a look at your airplane ticket if you're wondering who's paying for all that new security at Portland International Airport.

See those big machines over by the windows in the main terminal? The ones that look like elongated doghouses with a conveyor belt at the front door? Those puppies Ñ or more correctly, those InVision Technologies CTX 5500 DS explosives detection systems Ñ run about $1 million each.

You'll find six of them scattered through the main terminal at PDX, each tended by as many as a dozen federal employees from the new Transportation Security Administration.

Travelers are picking up much of the tab for the expensive security infrastructure coming online in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. Much of the money comes from either the new $2.50-per-ticketed-leg federal security tax or the increased fees paid by the airlines, most of which also winds up being added on to the price of your ticket.

For PDX, the security upgrades have meant new federal employees, new airport employees and new private security officers.

Don't expect to see everything that's going on.

'Many of the enhanced security elements are very visible to the traveling public,' said Steve Johnson, spokesman for the Port of Portland, which oversees the airport. 'Some are not.'

Officials will say little about how the system works, how many people are involved or the cost. But the PDX projects they are willing to discuss carry a price tag approaching $10 million.

Security changes

Here are some of the new PDX security practices and their costs:

• Each InVision CTX 5500 DS carries a price tag between $900,000 and $1 million. Two years ago, PDX had two of the systems. Now it has six, and soon each of the 429 federally controlled airports will have an explosives detection system of some type. InVision, based in Newark, Calif., has sold 625 such explosives detection machines to the federal government so far, helping boost sales tenfold since 9-11.

• The airport also has at least 12 explosives trace detectors. These are the smaller tabletop machines used to screen passenger carry-on bags. The detectors, designed to check for explosives residue, cost $40,000 to $60,000 each and also are paid for by the federal government.

• The United States had 30 federal air marshals on Sept. 11, 2001. The Transportation Security Administration won't reveal how many there are today except to say that 'every day, federal air marshals complete thousands of flights,' said Suzanne Luber, TSA spokeswoman.

• Before 9-11, insurance against war and terrorism was included in the airport's overall insurance policy. Not anymore. Right after the terrorist attacks, the $50 million coverage was broken off as a separate policy costing $900,000 a year and the company reserved the right to cancel the policy with only seven days' notice. Last fall, the Port of Portland Commission let the policy lapse and the airport now has no war and terrorism insurance.

• TriMet is spending $200,000 a year to have private security guards check every MAX train arriving at the airport 19 hours a day, seven days a week. The guards wait for trains to empty and then sweep them for abandoned packages, often picking up litter in the process. 'We're inside the dynamic envelope because we come to the terminal,' said Mary Fetsch, a TriMet spokeswoman.

• On 9-11, 38 Port of Portland police officers were assigned to PDX. Today there are 58 officers on the port police staff, representing a cost increase of about $2 million a year. The money comes from fees paid by the airlines but is being offset, port officials said, by delays in some projects, such as the expansion of the Oregon Market, and by cuts in others.

• The port also contracts Oregon State Police officers to bolster police presence at passenger screening checkpoints. Port officials won't say how many are involved or provide details about their role. The cost since September 2001 is estimated to run about $1.2 million through June 30, the end of the 2002-03 fiscal year.

• A security station staffed by a private security company operates around the clock on the airfield. The officers are there to monitor the comings and goings of airport workers traveling between the various buildings of the PDX complex. The cost is about $1 million.

The money for these new security initiatives comes from several sources, although most of the cost still is passed onto travelers via ticket prices. Nationwide, the Transportation Security Administration has spent $11 billion on security upgrades, but officials won't say how much was spent in Portland.

Before Sept. 11, 2001, the airlines pooled their money to pay for passenger screening. That money now is paid to the federal government and the screeners are federal employees.

In general, the port pays for airport operations, but the money comes from the airlines. They, in turn, pass the costs on to passengers. The amount paid by the airlines to the port depends on the expenses. Rates are set July 1 at the start of the fiscal year but are adjusted as needed.

'If expenses go up, we raise rates. If they go down, we give them money back,' said Vince Granato, airport finance manager. 'It's like a tax refund.'

Industry turmoil

The increased security has placed new financial burdens on an airline industry that's already seeing giants such as United and American teetering on bankruptcy.

'Security and other measures mean costs have risen at a time when airline economics is a huge challenge,' said Jack Walsh, spokesman for Alaska Airlines. 'Some costs can be passed on to passengers but some cannot. You're seeing tremendous turmoil in the airline industry.'

Alaska Airlines saw its costs at PDX jump due largely to security concerns. The airline's PDX landing fees went up 28 percent from 2001 to 2002, from an average of $226 per landing to $289, Walsh said. In addition, security costs helped contribute to a 100 percent increase in rent paid by the airline.

Security even hit the kitchen. The airline now pays to have someone at the entry door to its PDX catering operation check identification badges and sign everyone in and out. All food now gets a security seal before it's taken to a plane.

There are other issues. The auto inspections, garage inspections and random checks on Northeast Airport Way meant increased port staff. And the ban on parking within 300 feet of the terminal took 1,000 of the 3,000 spaces in the parking garage out of service, although the airport is working to ease that rule.

And federal directives on the configuration of employee ID badges have changed more than once, requiring an annoying but not terribly expensive re-badging process for all airport workers.

If it all seems a little confusing, you're not alone. The Transportation Security Administration came into existence in 2001, and understanding who pays what and why remains a perplexing issue and one that probably will continue to change.

'Even for those of us in the industry,' Walsh said, 'it's still foggy.'