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Airports inconsistent on security, officials say

From Kathleen Koch
CNN Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The nation's aviation security system remains far from perfect despite toughened measures since September 11. Some airports have adhered to new standards better than others, a sporadic response that leaves the airline industry at risk and federal authorities frustrated.

"Deficiencies exist," said Norman Mineta, the U.S. transportation secretary. "Someone may undergo strict screening in Kansas City, while someone else can slip a pistol by screeners in New Orleans and this is intolerable."

Mineta said he wants more Federal Aviation Administration agents inspecting screening operations and is threatening to empty and re-screen entire concourses full of passengers if failures continue.

Airline officials said they are doing their best.

"We all have a zero tolerance plan. Unfortunately it's almost impossible to always have a 100 percent perfect system," said Carol Hallett of the Air Transport Association.

The federal government has taken numerous steps to tighten aviation security: limiting carry-on bags to one item, banning knives and cutting instruments, and allowing only ticketed passengers beyond screening checkpoints.

More air marshals are being hired and put on aircraft. National Guard troops are being deployed in airports. Cockpit doors have been reinforced.

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Private aircraft flights are banned over parts of Boston, Washington and New York. Temporary flight restrictions also apply near nuclear sites and large public outdoor and sporting events such as the World Series.

Violators can be intercepted and, as a last resort, shot down by military aircraft. But problems remain.

Most checked bags and cargo are never screened. Sophisticated machines to scan them are slow, underused and not in place at all U.S. airports. High turnover, low-wage employees continue to do bag screening.

Another concern voiced by some is that simple IDs allow access to secure areas of airports.

"Electronic identification of employees all around the aircraft in secure areas -- we need that," Duane Woerth of the Airline Pilots Association. "Will that be biometrics or finger printing or iris scans or retinal scan?"

Flight attendants said they need training and nonlethal weapons to deal with intruders.

"That part is being completely ignored and really leaving us completely vulnerable to any sort of violent intruder in the cabin of the aircraft," said Patricia Friend of the Association of Flight Attendants.


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