Salt Lake International Airport hasn't received any terrorist threats. But if it does, Federal Aviation Administration officials say the airport can handle it.
FAA officials checked out Salt Lake International on Tuesday, two weeks after security at Salt Lake International and other airports around the country had been bumped to level four - the FAA's highest defined level of security - to prevent a terrorist attack in the wake of the allied forces' attack on Iraq."From our observations, we are confident that federal requirements for airport security are being met and that the airport is prepared to respond to challenges that may come their way," said FAA regional administrator Fred Isaac.
He said no significant terrorist threats have been made on any airports in the seven-state region.
But if the FAA assessment comes at a time when security is at its tightest in recent memory, how secure is the airport against terrorist attacks when America isn't at war in the Middle East?
"By going to level four it gives a clue that there are loopholes at lower levels, and that concerns me," Jalal Haidar, former chief of airport operations at O'Hare International in Chicago and an expert on international aviation security, told the Deseret News.
Haidar said security at American airports is usually pathetic compared to measures taken in other countries, where normal conditions take the threat of terrorism into account. "As soon as the gulf crisis is over it will be business as usual, such as curb-side baggage checks. You should never accept baggage off the street."
But FAA officials inspecting Salt Lake International said security needs are monitored daily no matter what the condition. But only the necessary precautions are taken at a given time.
"We don't want to use a sledge hammer to kill a fly," Isaac said, concerning security decisions when terrorism isn't a serious threat. "It's called good resource management."
He explained that the FAA is constantly in touch with intelligence agencies around the world to determine where and when security should be tightened.
"We try to deal with the threat that exists and stay ahead of it. But not go so far that it gets ridiculous," added George Paul, regional manager of the FAA's civil aviation security division.
According to Haidar, the current level four would only be prudent under normal conditions, not ridiculous. He contends airport security is more a matter of dollars and cents than public safety.
And the FAA doesn't entirely disagree. Salt Lake City director of airports Lou Miller said heightened security has cost the airport about $3,800 more per week than normal security levels. The increased cost comes from overtime paid to security personnel working 50-60 hours per week to increase the presence of armed law enforcement at the airport.
Miller said the additional costs are passed on to the airlines in higher rents, which in turn is passed on to the traveler.
But Paul said airlines consider more than the bottom line when considering security. "Some (airlines) have requirements that exceed our standards."
- Don't leave luggage unattended. If you see unattended luggage, report it.
- Don't check in someone else's baggage or packages.
- Minimize amount of luggage.
- Pack electronic equipment and appliances in carry-on bags.
- If planning an overseas trip, check with the State Department to see if that flight is on its advisory list.