Securing the skies

New federal regulations call for checking all pieces of luggage

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— Starting today, travelers nationwide will have every piece of luggage checked at airports across the country, including at Yampa Valley Regional Airport.

The Hayden airport's director, Jim Parker, said he does not know what to expect today as the five airlines that serve the airport begin compliance with the federal Aviation Security Act.

"I don't think it will be business as usual," Parker said.

Because of the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, the Federal Aviation Administration has mandated airports across the country to increase security. The security act, which goes into effect today, compels airlines to improve safety.

The most significant change in the security act requires the airlines to check every bag or suitcase of every passenger who boards an aircraft.

Prior to Sept. 11, carryon luggage was screened but luggage checked in at a ticket counter was randomly searched.

As of Thursday afternoon, Parker said he did not know how each of the airlines United, Continental, American Airlines, Northwest and Air Wisconsin were going to comply with the requirement.

"We don't have explosion detection equipment," Parker said.

"So the airlines are going to have to use other ways to check luggage. There are numerous ways they can do this."

One way to check luggage is for airline personnel to open up every piece of luggage by hand.

Parker said he is hopeful the new requirement will not squeeze an airport terminal that is already cramped.

"We already have a facility that does not meet our peak demand," Parker said. "Any delays due to whatever method the airlines use has the potential to increase delays and add frustration for passengers.

"But they have been planning to do this."

Although the exact impact luggage checks will impose remains to be seen, Parker said he does not expect any changes to occur at passenger checkpoints or in securing the airport's perimeter.

Since the airport re-opened Sept. 14, the airport has been following the security requirements the security act outlines.

An armed Routt County Sheriff's deputy is stationed at the security checkpoint.

Also providing a security presence at the airport is the National Guard. These armed officers patrol the terminal and the airport's grounds.

The National Guard was deployed to 14 airports across the state in September for six months.

Parker said he has not received any information as to whether the six troops deployed here will stay longer than March.

"I haven't heard if the state will lengthen their stay or shorten it," Parker said. "We anticipate the guard will be here through the rest of the ski season, which ends in April."

So far, the airport's greatest concern has been parking and a passenger loading and unloading zone, Parker said.

The FAA has mandated that vehicles must be parked at least 300 feet from the airport's terminal. The airport has gotten approval for shuttles and motorists to use a loading and unloading zone at the terminal's curbside. So far, a majority of the shuttle drivers and motorists have been following the rule that a vehicle cannot be left unattended.

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