Congress Prepares Aviation Security Bill

The price of new measures to increase security at airports will come directly out of passengers' pockets, Congressional lawmakers said Tuesday. The fee, ranging from $1.50 to $2.50, to be added to each airline ticket sold, will help pay for added security.

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., said that the price of the increase would ultimately be determined by the Department of Transportation. 

"We are willing to negotiate, but I don't think people have the security they need," McCain said in defending the surcharge. 

The Senate Commerce Committee, which deals with airport safety, said part of that security would be the federalization of airport screeners at the nation's top 140 airports.  Screeners at smaller airports could come from local law enforcement, other members of the committee said at a news conference.

"It is time to end the subcontracting out of this country's national security," said Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore. He and others argued that privately contracted screeners are poorly paid, poorly trained and subject to high turnover rates.

Sen. Ernest Hollings, D-S.C., chairman of the Commerce Committee, said senators are working with the House and hope to get their aviation security bill through the Senate by the end of the week. He said that in the end he believed the administration would be "in lockstep" on the federalization issue.

House Republicans, following the lead of President Bush, are advocating legislation that would put the federal government in charge of the qualification and training of screeners but keep the current system of airports hiring private employees. Most House Democrats support a new federal work force.  The House bill suggests a $2.50 per ticket fee.

The bills that eventually come out of Congress will likely incorporate many of the ideas proposed by President Bush last week, including increasing the number of air marshals in planes, fortifying cockpit doors, installing new security equipment in planes, deploying the National Guard at airports and expanding the federal role in screening procedures.

A Transportation Department task force, comprised of airline industry and union representatives, presented like-minded measures to Secretary Norman Y. Mineta on Tuesday.

They recommended installing stronger cockpit doors within 30 days, and suggested pilots, flight attendants and other crew members get new security training within six months.

American and United are moving immediately to fortify the cockpit doors with steel bars in the wake of the September eleventh hijackings. Two American planes and two United flights were hijacked during the attacks.

The task force also recommended that the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), the airline industry and the pilots unions develop procedures within 30 days that could be used to help thwart a hijacking. Such procedures could include depressurizing the cabin or a rapid descent of the airplane.

In addition, the government and industry should take steps to ensure that an airplane will continuously transmit a hijack signal, even if the plane's transponder is turned off, the task force said.

A separate task force on improving security at airports, which submitted its recommendations to Mineta on Monday, called for a new federal security agency to handle the job. Already, several agencies are contributing law enforcement personnel to temporarily serve as air marshals, including some Coast Guard Investigative Service special agents.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.