New detectors mean airport delays

By Billy Corriher

Jonesboro resident Jeff Crawford said he often flies with his family when they go on vacation. And though construction of new bomb-detecting equipment at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport could complicate his travel plans, Crawford said he doesn't mind the inconvenience.

"It might be a hassle for a while? but if it keeps my family safe when we fly, I don't mind waiting," he said. "We've got to keep (another terrorist attack) from happening."

Airport spokeswoman Lanii Thomas said the drop-off lanes that pass by the North and South terminals will be partially closed for about a year when construction of the equipment begins in mid-May. Some drivers will be diverted to the parking decks beside the drop-off lanes.

"It's too soon to tell if there will be any significant delays," Thomas said, adding that the airport plans more public education on the changes if passengers need to arrive at the airport earlier.

Thomas said the new screening equipment will take the place of baggage screeners that are now in the airport's ticket lobby, making it more efficient for passengers in the end.

"It'll be pretty much the way it was pre-9/11," she said.

Once the underground rooms for the baggage screeners are completed, all checked luggage will be sent on a conveyor belt into the screening rooms before going to luggage sorting areas.

The project is expected to be completed in 20 months and will cost $215 million, but the federal government will reimburse the airport for 75 percent of the costs. The airport expects to award eight construction contracts for the bomb detecting equipment.

Installation of the screeners will begin as the airport is still working on its new fifth runway and international terminal, an expansion that comes as the airline industry is recovering from the 2001 terrorist attacks.

The airport recently reported a substantial increase in passenger traffic for 2003. Last year's 79.08 million travelers represent a 2.88 percent increase over 2002 traffic and is near 2000's record count of 80.16 million travelers.

Thomas said that although the airport is seeing more traffic, lines at security checkpoints have not been affected and passengers are now accustomed to the more stringent security.

"People have become very comfortable with the security-related measures we've taken so far," she said.

Riverdale resident Tracey Krim, who also flies often, said she hasn't had a problem with the increased security since the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.

"I haven't had a big problem with longer lines or anything," she said.

And despite the inconvenience, Krim said that knowing the airport is screening bags makes her feel safer when flying.

"I think it's a great idea," she said. "The sooner they start, the better."