Post 9/11 security rules not just for major airports

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Kirkwood High School/St. Louis, Mo.
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Nate Culley waits as Bonnie Brennan, Richard Bryant and Dylan Brennan prepare for their belongings to go through the X-ray machine at Columbia Regional Airport on Tuesday. "Right after (Sept. 11) was really onerous, but I think now it is extremely efficient," Bonnie Brennan said.
Photo by MICHELLE KANAAR/MUJW

Nate Culley waits as Bonnie Brennan, Richard Bryant and Dylan Brennan prepare for their belongings to go through the X-ray machine at Columbia Regional Airport on Tuesday. "Right after (Sept. 11) was really onerous, but I think now it is extremely efficient," Bonnie Brennan said.

COLUMBIA — At 2 p.m. last Monday, the Columbia Regional Airport was nearly empty.

There were no shuttle buses or taxis dropping off passengers. There were no voices over the intercom announcing final boarding instructions.

Only one passenger waited in the terminal for her 3:30 p.m. flight.

“People who arrive here expect stress,” said George Wren, the airport custodian. “The neat thing about this airport is that it’s so laid back.”

Travis Kuhn takes a bag of liquids out of his luggage to pass through security Tuesday at Columbia Regional Airport. Each passenger is allowed one quart-size plastic bag with containers of liquid or gel that are 3.4 ounces or less, according to Transportation Security Administration regulations.
Photo by MICHELLE KANAAR/MUJW

Travis Kuhn takes a bag of liquids out of his luggage to pass through security Tuesday at Columbia Regional Airport. Each passenger is allowed one quart-size plastic bag with containers of liquid or gel that are 3.4 ounces or less, according to Transportation Security Administration regulations.

After working at Columbia Regional Airport for seven months, Wren understands the small-town atmosphere of this terminal.

And though it does not serve a large urban center, the 17 airport employees and five Transportation Security Administration screeners

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must keep passengers just as safe as the most highly secured and equipped airports in the country do.

Columbia Regional Airport is far more compact than major hubs such as Lambert-St. Louis International Airport or Kansas City International. Delta Airlines is the only commercial carrier, offering three round-trips a day to Memphis, Tenn.

Except for private and corporate aircraft that are beyond the airport’s jurisdiction, no other flights are scheduled.

Airport Superintendent Don Elliott has overseen security for the past 30 years. He said he has never dealt with a terrorist threat, but he does appreciate the dramatic improvement in airport screening operations since the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon on Sept. 11, 2001.

“Before 9/11, an airline employee or private security officer would operate the X-ray machine and metal detector, and that was about it,” Elliott said. “[Screening] was run by people who took a short class on security. Now the screening workers are well-trained.”

After 9/11, the TSA replaced the Federal Aviation Administration as the authority over airline security hires, procedures and equipment. At Columbia Regional Airport, the TSA recruits and trains employees — called transportation security officers — to work in U.S. airports.

Columbia’s airport has a partial security status because of its size. It has the same standards of security and procedures, but less equipment and

fewer workers than a bigger airport.

“Receiving new technology is

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have it, but if the TSA institutes [new technology] on a national level, like a computer system, we would get it.”

The most recent addition to the TSA equipment list is the full-body scanner, officially called advanced imaging technology. Columbia’s airport does not have any of the scanners.

Still, the screening area at the airport closely resembles

that of other TSA locations around the country. The TSA deploys five workers for each flight, along with a baggage X-ray machine, a metal detector and a glass booth for more in-depth searches.

Since Memphis is the only destination, Columbia’s airport has no need for multiple screening gates.

Although the airport doesn’t have have a large number of security officials or the latest screening technology, Schneider and Elliott said they have great confidence in the safety of their airport.

With only three round-trip flights a day, the number of daily passengers is manageable for security. Schneider also trusts the directives the TSA issues to protect U.S airlines.

“If there’s a liquid bomb threat, soon after we can’t allow liquids on planes,” he said.

“As new threats come about, I’m sure TSA will continue to adapt, and we will support any screening we see necessary.”

Although the threat of a terrorist attack is greater now than when Elliott began working at Columbia Regional Airport, he said he feels more comfortable with airport security than he ever has.

“As far as the screening process now, I’m a lot happier with it,” he said. “I really am.”

Early Monday afternoon, Shirley Oakes was the lone passenger waiting for a flight to Pittsburgh, her first from a small, regional airport. It was more than an hour before her scheduled departure, and the security screening area was vacant.

She said the relaxed atmosphere did not worry her or make her feel unsafe.

“I’m a country girl, so it doesn’t bother me,” Oakes said. “I’ve never been afraid of flying.”

She laughed.

“But if you put a snake on the plane, I’d kill you.”