No timetable for when Yampa Valley Regional Airport might get replacement security equipment
Steamboat Springs — Colorado’s two U.S. senators say they’re hopeful the return of pat-downs and metal detectors at Yampa Valley Regional Airport is only temporary, but there is no specific timetable for when the airport will receive replacement body-scanning equipment.
Pat-downs, handheld wands and walk-through metal detectors once again became the primary tools for screening passengers at YVRA on Wednesday, the day after Transportation Security Administration workers removed the airport’s more sophisticated body-scanning machine. The L-3 Communications body-scanner is being moved to another airport where TSA thinks it will get more use, the result of a federal government decision to terminate a contract with Rapiscan Systems because of that company’s inability to come up with a timely software fix to address privacy concerns related to the life-like images of passengers its scanners generate. The L-3 machines, on the other hand, create cartoon-like images of passengers going through security screening.
The decision was to the dismay of YVRA Airport Manager Dave Ruppel, who says moving the L-3 machines from smaller airports across the country is a waste of taxpayer dollars while also creating a potential security loophole in the aviation system. Ruppel and officials in Routt and Moffat counties also say a return to old security measures will be an inconvenience for travelers.
Adam Bozzi, a spokesman for U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo., said Thursday the removal of the L-3 machines from airports like YVRA was an unintended consequence of the Federal Aviation Administration reauthorization bill signed into law in February 2012.
Both Bennet and Sen. Mark Udall, D-Colo. voted for the bill that, among other things, included safeguards to protect the privacy of passengers passing through full-body scanning machines.
“Senator Bennet, like many members, expected the companies that manufacture these machines to meet the required privacy standards,” Bozzi said.
A TSA spokeswoman on Thursday said the agency wants to ensure the L-3 machines are placed at checkpoints where they will be used a significant portion of operating hours, increasing overall use across the national aviation system. The spokeswoman said that when TSA gets additional L-3 units, the agency will evaluate airport needs across the country to assess where new scanning machines will be deployed.
“We are committed to working with the airports and the TSA to get the scanners back to the regional airports when feasible,” Udall spokesman Mike Saccone said Thursday.
For now, security screeners at YVRA are falling back on methods used before the L-3 machine was installed in February 2012.
“It is obviously very frustrating to small airports that have done nothing wrong and made the necessary changes to install new machines that meet the necessary privacy standards but are nevertheless required to give them up temporarily,” Bozzi said.
When Ruppel learned earlier this month that his airport’s scanning machine would be among those redistributed to other airports, he contacted the offices of Udall, Bennet and U.S. Rep. Scott Tipton, R-Cortez. A spokeswoman for Tipton did not reply to an email seeking comment Thursday.
Ruppel said he received a response only from James Thompson, a staffer in Bennet’s Fort Collins office. Ruppel said he expressed his concerns, but it did not change the ultimate result.
“I basically said this was a step back in security,” Ruppel said.
Officials at some airports, including one in Helena, Mont., have refused to allow the TSA to remove their L-3 scanning machines. Ruppel questioned his ability to take such a stand given that YVRA’s machine was owned by TSA.
Ruppel’s opposition to the machine’s removal has been supported by Routt County commissioners as well as members of the Yampa Valley Airport Commission, including Chairman Ray Beck.
Beck, a Craig city councilman, said Thursday he does not think the removal of the L-3 machine will impact travel schedules, but he does expect the airport to receive some complaints about how TSA will conduct its security screenings going forward.
“I have to say I agree with our Airport Manager Dave Ruppel,” Beck said. “It doesn’t make sense to remove the machines because people have gotten used to them and they get people through security in a timely fashion.
“The safety checks are going to be more intrusive (than they have been during the last year), but we don’t own them (the L-3 machines), TSA does.”
To reach Matt Stensland, call 970-871-4247 or email mstensland@SteamboatToday.com
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