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Saturday, May 18, 2024

Officials optimistic about air traffic

Barely five weeks after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks brought air travel in the United States to a sudden halt, a Dane County Regional Airport official said Thursday that air travel has been 'rapidly' increasing. 

 

 

 

'This week has been unreal,' said Rod McLean, airport deputy director. 

 

 

 

McLean said the number of flights now leaving Dane County airport is within '10 or 12 percent' of what would be expected had the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks not devastated the nationwide aviation industry. 

 

 

 

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'I think the impact on aviation has probably reached a peak,' McLean said, predicting that by the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays air travel in and out of Dane County will be back to normal. 

 

 

 

A representative from O'Hare International Airport in Chicago presented a less rosy picture than McLean, but said travel at one of the world's busiest airports is slowly picking up. 

 

 

 

'We have been having a gradual increase,' said Monique Bond, spokesperson for the Chicago Department of Aviation. 

 

 

 

Bond said O'Hare currently handles 2,200 flights per day, down 500 from its pre-Sept. 11 average of 2,700 flights per day. 

 

 

 

'Thanksgiving will be the benchmark' for measuring the airline industry's progress, Bond added. 

 

 

 

The increase in air travel has been strong enough that at least three airlines'Southwest, Continental and U.S. Air'have said they will not need the $10 billion in loan guarantees approved by Congress last month to bail out the industry, according to former airline executive Robert Mann, president of R.W. Mann and Co., an airline industry consulting firm based in Port Washington, N.Y. 

 

 

 

The engines powering the comeback in air travel are lower prices and the efforts by the government and airlines to create 'the appearance of sufficient security and safety,' Mann said. 

 

 

 

High-security measures, including National Guard soldiers, have been in place at airports nationwide ever since the Federal Aviation Administration permitted air travel to resume Sept. 13. 

 

 

 

'I don't think the bank robber goes to the bank where all the cops are,' McLean said. 

 

 

 

In the middle of the attention on airport security issues are the workers who screen passengers and their bags for weapons before boarding.  

 

 

 

Northwest Airlines told the Dane County Airport Commission Thursday that it would increase the pay of weapons screeners at the airport from $7 to $9 per hour, effective immediately. 

 

 

 

Although McLean said he welcomed Northwest's decision, he did not think it would make the airport safer. 

 

 

 

'If you make a lot more money, your morale is higher, but it doesn't mean you will be more intense and more professional,' McLean said. 'The security was very good before and it remains very good.' 

 

 

 

Prior to the $2 per hour pay raise, some Dane County supervisors proposed turning airport security operations over to unionized county workers or sheriff's deputies. 

 

 

 

On Thursday, county Sup. Darold Lowe, District 3, a supporter of the plan, said Northwest's decision was 'what we want,' but said he would not be satisfied until the airline indexed screeners' pay increases to inflation. 

 

 

 

'We want the county to take a look at [indexing] whether or not [the screeners] are county employees,' said Lowe, a member of the county airport commission who added that his first choice would be for the federal government to take over airport security. 

 

 

 

Last week, the U.S. Senate unanimously passed a bill that would federalize airport screeners and baggage handlers, but the bill is currently stalled in the House of Representatives. 

 

 

 

Mann called Northwest's decision 'a bald-faced attempt to ensure that the aviation security business remains a private function rather than a federal function.' 

 

 

 

Mann said studies by the federal General Accounting Office and the U.S. Department of Transportation have given political ammunition to those who believe security screeners should be federal workers. In an industry with more than 100 percent yearly turnover, the GAO found that 'many screeners didn't know job one about what their functions are,' he said. 'The people who were on the job were incompetent.'  

 

 

 

In order for pay raises to improve safety, 'there has to be a commitment that goes with it to train [screeners] properly,' Mann said. 'If [screeners] aren't trained it won't matter what they're paid.'

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