Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Transportation Security Administration won't provide funding for bomb dogs at Richmond International Airport


Just a month ago, Jon E. Mathiasen, president and CEO of the Richmond International Airport, was confident the airport would receive $150,000 a year in federal funding to help pay for three teams of explosive-detection dogs and police officer handlers.

But on Tuesday, Mathiasen told the Capital Region Airport Commission that the money, which was to be available through the Transportation Security Administration’s National Explosives Detection Canine Team Program, won’t materialize, at least this year.

“Unfortunately, due to an unexpected change in funding, we will not be able to add any additional law enforcement teams at this time,” James W. Pruitt, a regional canine coordinator with the TSA, wrote in an email to the airport’s police chief and public safety director.

At last month’s airport commission meeting, the board authorized the airport to apply for the money, which would have been good for four years and would have brought regular explosive detection dogs back to the airport. The TSA reassigned the teams that were working in Richmond last year to “higher risk airports,” the TSA said.

Since then, the airport has brought in dogs from Henrico Police, the Capitol Police and Virginia State Police on a case-by-case basis, airport spokesman Troy Bell said.

Mathiasen said a report aired this month by a Dallas television station found that the canine teams failed numerous tests at major airports. The report ran on Sept. 14 and the airport got its email from Pruitt the next day.
“It seems coincidental that this big report comes out and this change in funding happened at the same time,” Mathiasen said.

Lisa Farbstein, a TSA spokeswoman, said the agency’s request to Congress, which has not yet approved the federal budget for the fiscal year that starts Saturday, includes funding to add 50 additional canine teams.

“Initial projection was the 50 teams would consist of a combination of TSA handlers and local law enforcement officers,” Farbstein wrote in an e-mail. “TSA officials, in assessing the current national transportation security needs, have since made a risk-based decision to allocate the additional 50 canine teams, anticipated to be received in fiscal year 2017, to further enhance TSA’s passenger screening capability.”

Farbstein did not respond to followup questions asking where TSA plans to put those teams.

In other airport news, American Airlines will be testing curbside check-in with handheld devices and expects to offer the service in the coming weeks, Bell said.

That would make them the first airline to bring curbside check-in back since the service evaporated after Sept. 11, 2001, initially amid a drop in flights and later as the recession set in, Bell said.

The airport also announced that it has converted all 21 of its airport shuttles from diesel fuel to compressed natural gas at a cost of about $4.7 million. Twelve of the cleaner-burning shuttles were purchased in the past six months, Bell said.

Passenger traffic at the airport increased 0.9 percent in August from the same month in 2015, making it the second busiest August on record at the airport.

So far this calendar year, traffic is up 0.7 percent.

Three carriers reported year-over-year increases in August — United, rose 14.3 percent; Delta, increased 1.3 percent; and JetBlue, up 0.2 percent.

Cargo traffic rose 22.3 percent last month.


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