U.S. requires screening on charter planes
Published: Friday, January 3, 2003 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, January 2, 2003 at 10:10 p.m.
Washington - Northwest Airlines Corp., Southwest Airlines Co. and other operators of large private charter aircraft must ensure by Feb. 1 that those passengers are screened, adding costs in a travel slump.
The U.S. rule issued Thursday requires screening on more types of charter planes than a proposed regulation in June, said Deborah McElroy, president of the Regional Airline Association trade group.
The Transportation Security Administration said that by Jan. 24 it will estimate the cost of complying with the rule.
"Carriers will have to make a decision whether the economics work in continuing to do this kind of service," said McElroy, whose group represents AMR Corp.'s American Eagle, Delta Air Lines Inc.'s Comair and other regional carriers. "We do not have the ability to absorb additional costs."
The rule affects charters for groups such as professional sports teams and orchestras, and is part of efforts to tighten airport security after last year's Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. U.S. airlines, which are trying to cope with fewer passengers, added security costs and lower fares, will lose a combined $9.5 billion in 2002, the Air Transport Association has estimated.
The Transportation Security Administration said passengers on charter planes that weigh more than 100,309 pounds or seat more than 60 people should be screened.
Airlines ranging from the major carriers such as Northwest and Southwest to smaller regional companies get some sales from private charter service. The charters often use small airfields lacking the security equipment and screeners of large airports.
"We have deemed the private charter industry to be vulnerable," said Heather Rosenker, a TSA spokeswoman. Charter flights open to the public already are screened.
The new rule may force carriers to use security-equipped airports such as Chicago O'Hare International, where fees would add $26.06 in costs per passenger, said Ron Priddy, president of the National Air Carrier Association, which represents 12 passenger and cargo airlines including ATA Holdings Corp.'s American Trans Air.
"We continue to be disappointed that TSA feels that this particular rule is even necessary," Priddy said. "The majority of these private charters are affinity groups where all the individuals are well known to each other."
Northwest does charter flights for 27 pro sports teams, as well as for corporate, military, vacation-package and other groups, said spokesman Kurt Ebenhoch. He declined to provide a sales figure for the business.
The airline will do 2,000 private charter flights this year, a small number compared with its 1,500 to 1,800 daily commercial flights, Ebenhoch said.
The companies won't be able to estimate the cost until the agency discloses by Friday what type of equipment and procedures will satisfy the requirement, Priddy said. The rule will allow non-federal workers to conduct screening, which gives the carriers some flexibility, he said.
Operators of planes such as the Bombardier Inc. DHC-8-401 and BAE Systems Plc's Avro RJ85A, which were added under today's final rule, get until March 1 to begin the screening.
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