Colorado’s US senators want Yampa Valley Regional Airport scanning machine replaced | SteamboatToday.com

Colorado’s US senators want Yampa Valley Regional Airport scanning machine replaced

U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet

— Colorado's two U.S. senators have sent a letter to the Transportation Security Administration asking for full-body scanning machines to be replaced quickly at Colorado's regional airports.

That includes the machine at Yampa Valley Regional Airport in Hayden that was removed Feb. 26. Security screeners have reverted to older techniques and equipment including walk-through metal detectors, handheld wands and physical pat-downs.

During the weekend, the removal of the full-body scanner resulted in at least one very unhappy passenger — a teenage girl with a prosthetic leg who was asked to undergo a manual pat-down while going through security.

"The solution they came up with was she had to remove the leg and put it through the baggage scanner," YVRA Manager Dave Ruppel said.

Ruppel said the situation could have been avoided had YVRA's full-body scanner not been moved to a busier airport.

"We urge TSA to address this issue as swiftly as possible while providing a clear timeline for plan implementation and machine replacement," states a letter signed by U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo., and Sen. Mark Udall, D-Colo.

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The letter was sent Tuesday to TSA Administrator John Pistole after the TSA started moving L-3 Communications body-scanning machines from some regional airports to larger airports with higher volumes of passenger traffic. The machines are being moved because larger airports are losing body-scanning machines made by a company that wasn't able to come up with a timely software fix that would allow them to comply with privacy rules put in place by Congress. The noncompliant machines showed detailed images of passengers' bodies.

"We appreciate that TSA is operating under a tight timeline for replacing the problematic scanners in order to address the problem," the letter from the senators states. "However, TSA’s actions are having a real impact on Colorado passengers and the regional airports working to serve them. Airport administrators worry that the redeployment could result in longer wait times and undermine the more stringent security standards that TSA is working to achieve through these scanners. In addition, certain Colorado airports located in the Rocky Mountains are seeing a spike in travelers due to ski season, making this a particularly difficult time to switch passenger screening equipment."

The comments from the senators echo concerns expressed by Ruppel. Ruppel, however, said it did not appear wait times at his airport were longer than normal during the busy weekend. He credits the local TSA crew, which he said was staffed appropriately and was prepared to use the old screening techniques.

Ruppel still takes issue with the customer service aspect, including YVRA travelers like the unhappy teenager potentially being subjected to uncomfortable pat-downs.

"That's almost a bigger issue than anything else," Ruppel said.

Ruppel said he is happy that pressure is being put on TSA to create a timeline for bringing in a new body scanner.

"You want people's last impression to be a positive one," Ruppel said about the airport experience.

To reach Matt Stensland, call 970-871-4247 or email mstensland@SteamboatToday.com

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