In San Luis Obispo, Increasing Traffic, but Fewer TSA Staff

Security screeners who leave their jobs at the San Luis Obispo County Regional Airport will not be replaced as of Saturday as the federal government seeks to reduce the airport's allotment of screeners to 13 from its current 21.

There is still a possibility, however, that cuts may not occur if local officials can convince the federal Transportation Security Administration that the reduced staffing would not adequately serve the passengers flying out of the city.

"Right now those numbers are being reviewed again" with data provided by the local airport, said TSA spokeswoman Jennifer Peppin. "It is hopeful that the numbers would increase, but we don't know that."

The decision came as part of the agency's annual shift of workers at the 450 airports nationwide. A congressional mandate capped the number of screeners at 45,000 last year.

Peppin could not say when that review would be completed.

Meanwhile, the federal agency will move ahead with its plan to eliminate open positions at the local airport, while local officials will continue to protest.

"If they cut staffing down to that level, we believe there would be some serious impacts," said Craig Piper, the airport's operations supervisor. "This airport is expanding and that would be a step backward."

Worried such a cut would lead to delays and eventually fewer flights in and out of the city, airport and local TSA officials began protesting the computer-generated plan once they were notified of it in August.

U.S. Reps. Bill Thomas and Lois Capps, who represent parts of the county, also got involved. They have been questioning TSA and the Department of Homeland Security about whether the decision takes into consideration the double-digit increases in passengers the airport has seen over the past few years and the $80 million in capital improvements planned over the next five years.

Opponents of the decision also note that all but two airports of similar size are slated to have more screeners than San Luis Obispo.

(c) 2005 Associated Press

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