Tight security at Salt Lake International Airport may be here to stay - at least until federal officials relax restrictions, and that may not be anytime soon.
"We're assessing the (terrorist) threat with intelligence and law enforcement and that takes some time," said Mitch Barker, regional spokesman for the Federal Aviation Administration.Asked if beefed up security could be permanent, Barker said, "I can't say that won't be a possibility."
Airport security has been at Level 4 - the highest security level defined by the FAA - ever since war broke out in the Persian Gulf. To deter terrorist attacks, the airport has increased the number of security guards and dogs on duty in the terminals and on the airfield. Also, concourses are restricted to ticketed travelers or adults accompanying a ticketed minor.
Airport officials were allowing news reporters into the concourses with a security escort, but the FAA recently prohibited that practice. Now, reporters and even families greeting returning military troops or missionaries have to wait outside the concourse.
Airport spokeswoman Barbara Gann said the public hasn't registered any complaints. "It seems they are accepting it, once they realize it is for safety," she said.
Barker said the biggest complainers are airport operators, because of the cost of maintaining increased security. The Salt Lake International Airport Authority is spending $1,200 a day to maintain beefed up security. Director Louis E. Miller recently told the airport's board that if the restrictions continue through June, the airport could spend $70,000 more than it would normally on security.
Operators of the airport's gift shops and food outlets would like the security eased because it scares away travelers. But because most sales are generated by ticketed passengers, it is difficult to assess what impact the restrictions have had on business.
"Our business is marginally up from last year," said Bill Crismon, an owner of Air Terminal Gifts, which operates nine gift shops in the airport.
He said his two largest stores are in areas where both ticketed passengers and others can go.