Airport Still Waiting For Money To Land
Congress created the TSA last fall to take over civil aviation security functions at the nation’s airports, as an agency of the Department of Transportation.
At the same time, however, Congress hasn’t assumed the financial responsibility that comes with managing such an important task.
GFIA Director James Koslosky recently told county commissioners that Washington lawmakers assured airport managers that federal dollars would pay for the security upgrades they instituted last fall.
But so far, Koslosky said the airport has only been reimbursed for half of what it has spent.
“Times are tight right now,” he said, “and everybody is bleeding red ink.”
In March, the airport received $689,309 in Defense Department funds for the increased security measures. GFIA had requested $1.3 million.
The Kent County Board of Aeronautics added $1.1 million to the airport’s 2002 budget in December to help cover the additional cost coming from the federal security mandate.
But officials aren’t sure when the other half of the money will land at the airport because Congress hasn’t allocated the funds, yet.
“TSA is actually responsible for all the security at the airport,” said Koslosky.
Koslosky said that while the changeover has been in progress since November, the process was still in its infant stage.
Machines that screen luggage for explosives are being added to the terminal. Six are going in this month near the ticket counters and all should be activated by the end of this week.
Screening checkpoints are being reconfigured, and that work should be finished by the middle of June. A permanent federal security director will be on hand within weeks, and a full federal screener workforce will be on the job by August.
With the Guardsmen gone, airport police and Kent County Sheriff Deputies are handling law enforcement duties until the Feds arrive a week before Thanksgiving. One officer will be stationed at each checkpoint and all will have full arrest power.
As for air travel, Koslosky told commissioners that it was down 4 percent this March from the same month a year ago, and less business traffic was the reason for the dip.
Normally, he said, traffic at GFIA is split 60-40, meaning 60 percent leisure travel and 40 percent corporate flying. But so far this year, that split is 80-20 with the latter figure marking the percent of business traffic going through the airport’s gates — meaning fewer executives are flying the friendly skies.
Koslosky said that passenger check-in still takes about 90 minutes. But he added the security protocol could change once the federal director is in place.
TSA picked GFIA as a place to study new security procedures and processes, one of only 15 airports chosen nationwide to help build the country’s new air-security system.
TSA also picked GFIA as the country’s first airport to get the full-blown explosive detection screening system.
All that is well and good with county and airport officials.
Now they just wonder when they’re going to get the check.