ATLANTA – The parent company of Argenbright Security Inc., the troubled airport security screening firm that has become symbolic of the industry's many woes, said Friday it has replaced founder and chief executive Frank Argenbright Jr. as it seeks to regain the trust of passengers and airlines.
David Beaton, an executive with Argenbright parent Securicor, which bought the Atlanta-based company in January, was named chief executive.
Argenbright, which took over security operations this week for Southwest and United airlines at Baltimore-Washington International Airport, has 40 percent of the domestic airport screener market. The company said it had raised starting hourly salaries by $2, now ranging from $8 to $10 per hour.
In addition, the company said in a statement it will ask authorities to allow it not to hire anyone convicted of a felony. Such a step would go further than current Federal Aviation Administration regulations, which exclude only those convicted in the last 10 years for any of two-dozen specified crimes.
"My clear intention is to substantially reshape and restructure the company," Beaton, 49, said in a statement from Argenbright. The reforms are designed "to ensure that Argenbright meets and exceeds the public's and (Bush) Administration's heightened security expectations."
The company said its training procedures will be patterned after standards Securicor uses in European airports, which are widely considered more secure than their U.S. counterparts.
Beaton said the company also will fingerprint all employees and recheck their backgrounds under a new "zero tolerance" policy.
Argenbright employs 7,000 workers at 35 airports.
Bill Barbour remains the company's president and chief operating officer. Additional management changes might occur in coming weeks as Beaton assesses the company's operations, Argenbright spokesman Brian Lott said.
Frank Argenbright was not available for comment Friday, according to an answering service for AHL Services Inc., where he is employed.
The changes come after several weeks of renewed attention to lapses at America's airports, where teams of hijackers smuggled box cutters onto planes Sept. 11 and crashed them into the World Trade Center and Pentagon.
Argenbright has a history of security lapses that forced the company to plead guilty in federal court in Philadelphia in May 2000. It received a $1.5 million penalty and promised not to hire or retain employees whose criminal convictions should have disqualified them.
But last month, Pennsylvania prosecutors again hauled Argenbright back into court with new evidence that the company had ignored its promises and violated a plea agreement in the case. It has left the Philadelphia airport, citing economic reasons.
On Wednesday, Argenbright Security said it had fired three employees for reasons related to a security lapse last week at Chicago's O'Hare International Airport. The workers allegedly allowed a man carrying knives, a stun gun and tear gas through a security checkpoint at the airport.
Separately Friday, House majority whip Tom DeLay, R-Texas, sent a letter to a Securicor board member demanding management changes at Argenbright.
"For the American flying public, Argenbright has become a synonym for failure," DeLay wrote, adding that the company's "management team has lost America's confidence and must be replaced as quickly as possible."
Beaton most recently was managing director of Securicor's government services unit, based in London. He retired from the British army as a lieutenant colonel.