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Airport security has tightened in wake of 9/11 terror attacks

| Tuesday, Sept. 6, 2011

A lot about air travel has changed since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on America.

Commercial flyers have gotten used to those long lines at the airport where they and their belongings are scanned, scrutinized and even x-rayed by Transportation Security Administration workers and other security personnel.

Air travelers have coped with the confusing, color-coded -- and as of this year, defunct -- Homeland Security Advisory System and taken security matters into their own hands, like the American Airlines passengers who attacked and subdued the would-be air terrorist Richard Reid, aka the shoe bomber, in December 2001 on a flight from Paris bound for Miami.

Since then, shoes regularly are inspected at the security gates of major airports before travelers may proceed to their boarding gates.

Anybody who's taken a flight in the last decade knows the skies " or at least airports " aren't as friendly as they used to be. Still, most people agree that the added security is needed.

Norwin High School senior Nate Derry said he's flown plenty of times since the attacks, which happened when he was in second grade.

"Going to the airport now, it's very uptight," Derry said. "Not only do you feel safer in the airport now, you're also suspicious of people nevertheless."

According to a recent Associated Press article, a public reluctance to fly immediately after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon resulted in airlines lowering their prices to unprofitable levels to bring passengers back. People began to fly again but came to expect discount prices. Today ticket prices are 20 percent less than they were pre-9/11 when adjusted for inflation.

The AP reported that the industry shed more than a quarter of its previous 620,000 full-time jobs to keep operating costs low. The pay scales for remaining jobs also were reduced to where the average pay for a pilot with 10 years of experience is now $145,000, down 13 percent when adjusted for inflation.

But it's not only in large airports where security efforts have been stepped up dramatically. Smaller airports also have adjusted to changing times and attitudes.

"We've put more sophisticated security apparatus on the airfield and at every access point," said JoAnn Jenny, who is Allegheny County Airport Authority director. Before the 9/11 attacks "there used to be fence around (County Airport in West Mifflin), but it wasn't a security grade fence."

After the tragedy, security at the fence and all access points was improved, airport visitor record-keeping became a priority and an identification badge system was introduced.

"It was a real challenge in the early days after 9/11," recalled Jenny, noting there was talk of closing down small piloting schools because some of the terrorists had trained in such a facility. Paying for the security upgrades, she noted, was a major issue for smaller airports.

Ten years past the tragedy, Jenny said, "We're where we need to be in terms of general aviation security."

Corporate Aircraft, LLC, which has its aircraft management and charter company headquartered at the airport in West Mifflin, is factoring stricter security measures in the future into its development plans.

Company spokesman Mike Vargo said Corporate Air is adding full body scanners similar to those used in commercial airports as it undertakes a multi-million dollar expansion project to one of its hangars in West Mifflin.

Vargo notes that stringent TSA laws already apply to private air companies.

Corporate Air clients are screened to determine if they are on the TSA's no-fly list before they can fly in an aircraft, even if they own it.

Since the terrorists' attacks, "There's a lot more focus on not leaving aircraft unsecured," said Vargo, adding, "We've got cameras everywhere."

Corporate Air has weathered the storm of added security costs that followed the Sept. 11 attacks, noting security upgrades weren't as burdensome on private operators as they were on commercial airlines. The threat that high costs related to security will knock small operators and airports out of business remains, though Vargo, who flew Blackhawk helicopters while he was in the Army and worked during the aftermath of the attack on the Pentagon, allows that threats from terrorists persist also.

"The enemy hasn't gone away," he said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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