Tucson, Ariz., Airport to Receive 3 Bomb-Sniffing Dogs, Handlers

Travelers at Tucson International Airport will notice a new security feature in a few months -- one with four legs and fur.

The Tucson Airport Authority's board of directors on Tuesday accepted an offer from the federal Transportation Security Administration to provide three bomb-sniffing dogs to the airport as well as training for three airport police officers to handle the animals.

The measure was one of several approved by the authority's board of directors in its monthly meeting to enhance security at Tucson International and at Ryan Airfield, which the authority also manages.

The security measures are necessary for airports in the post-9/11 world, said Tom Andrews, the authority's vice president of operations.

The dogs will begin patrolling the airport within six to nine months, he said.

Having dogs on hand will enable airport police to respond quickly to reports of suspicious baggage or packages, he said.

"The dogs will provide a significant deterrent and a ready response within minutes," Andrews said.

The airport now depends on the Pima County Sheriff's Department to send a bomb-sniffing dog and handler, he said.

That arrangement doesn't allow quick response, Andrews added, citing the two hours it took to get a bomb dog to a rental car office next to the airport terminal on Friday. The office was evacuated because of a suspicious package that employees found. The package later was found to be harmless.

Andrews said the federal government will pay most of the program's costs, up to $120,000 a year. The government funds the program at 84 other airports around the country.

Also on Tuesday, the Airport Authority board approved a proposal to join a regional SWAT team organized by the Pima County Sheriff's Department.

The airport police will provide three officers to train with the Special Weapons and Tactics team, which will form a squad that will specialize in incidents that occur at the airport, Andrews said.

Bonnie Allin, the Airport Authority's president and chief executive officer, told board members that the authority is waiting for written confirmation from the airport's insurance carriers that participation in the program shouldn't create additional liability or increase the cost of the airport's insurance coverage.

The airport has had to call in a SWAT team three times in recent years, Andrews said. Details on those incidents were not available Tuesday.

Copyright ©2005 The Arizona Daily Star, Tucson