Jacksonville Airport Tees up Screening for Checked Golf Bags

Apr. 24--Golf club bags checked in at Jacksonville International Airport might be screened by machine rather than checked by hand if a pilot program at the airport is successful.

In conjunction with the terminal expansion project now under way, the Transportation Security Administration is testing a machine it hopes will be able to see through a mass of metal clubs.

The scanning machines now used in Jacksonville and other airports to examine checked bags are triggered by the clubs, which create a "shielding" hazard.

That means that all of the golf bags passing through the system -- more than 80,000 a year in Jacksonville -- have to be searched by hand by TSA employees, a lengthy, labor-intensive method.

"It will save us a ton of time and a ton of manpower," Ed Goodwin , TSA's federal security director in Jacksonville, said about the machine.

It also might ease the minds of golfers who dislike their bags being searched.

"I would think the golfers would appreciate people not rummaging through their clubs, just because of the nature of the cost of the equipment," said David Reese , president of Florida's First Coast of Golf , a nonprofit organization that promotes the region as a golfing destination.

Although the machine has been installed as part of an overhaul of the airport's baggage screening system, TSA picked up the tab for the equipment, which is not being used for this purpose at other airports.

In the past, all checked baggage was sent to one central screening area, and bags that TSA workers couldn't clear through were sent to a reconciliation room for manual checking. The new system decentralizes the first part of the process, putting a bank of screening machines underneath each of the two check-in areas.

The setup was brought online over the weekend, the airport said, clearing the way for other behind-the-scenes work, such as finalizing a new TSA reconciliation room.

By adding machines and changing the configuration of the system, the capacity of the screening system has doubled, said Bob Molle, the Jacksonville Aviation Authority's director of engineering, which is necessary considering how much the airport has grown: When the system was installed in 2002, the airport would handle only 10,000 bags on major travel days; now it routinely sees 10,000 bags and at times peaks to 11,000.

"It shortens the distance bags travel and makes the process more efficient," Molle said.

Copyright (c) 2007, The Florida Times-Union, Jacksonville Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Business News.