Lihu’e Airport checkpoint now under federal control

LIHU’E – Lihu’e Airport was one of 12 airports across the country that were officially “federalized” Tuesday.

Facing a mandate to install federal security screeners at all 429 of the nation’s commercial airports by the middle of next month, federal officials announced that Lihu’e Airport, Kona International Airport on the Big Island and 10 other airports across the Mainland brought the total number of airports with federal screeners to 192.

The change means even more intense scrutiny of both checked baggage and certain passengers, explained Robert A. Schoonmaker, federal security director for Lihu’e Airport for the Transportation Security Administration (TSA).

As of yesterday, federal employees now work as passenger and carry-on baggage screeners at the main security checkpoint at Lihu’e Airport, and at the boarding gates past the main checkpoint.

Around 45 federal screeners have been hired, Schoonmaker said.

The main security checkpoint, beyond which only ticketed passengers are allowed, is behind the U.S. Department of Agriculture checkpoint.

Immediately, the change means federal officers instead of contract screeners employed by The Wackenhut Corporation work at the main checkpoint and the “sterile” area beyond it.

By the end of the year, it will mean even more rigorous scrutiny of checked luggage as well.

The TSA was formed as a result of the terrorist attacks on New York City and Washington, D.C. 13 months ago, after the U.S. Congress passed the Aviation and Transportation Security Act that created TSA.

The act mandates that TSA deploy federal passenger screeners to all commercial airports by Tuesday, Nov. 19, and that TSA screen all checked luggage for explosives by Tuesday, Dec. 31.

“With less than five weeks to go, TSA is on target to meet an unprecedented deadline to deploy federal screeners to the nation’s 429 commercial airports by Nov. 19,” said Acting Under Secretary of Transportation for Security Adm. James M. Loy.

“TSA is on the verge of a major success story,” he said.

Several small, regional airports were federalized last weekend.

“TSA is committed to working with the airport and the community at large to ensure the security of the flying public,” said Schoonmaker, who repeatedly praised the efforts of the Wackenhut contract security detail in providing a safe environment.

“Our new federal screeners are highly trained and highly motivated to provide the world-class customer service and world-class security that the American people deserve.”

Staff Writer Paul C. Curtis can be reached at mailto:pcurtis@pulitzer.net or 245-3681 (ext. 224).

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