TSA May Cut 400 Airport Security Screeners at Atlanta Airport

ATLANTA (AP) - The general manager of Atlanta's airport says he is worried about a Transportation Security Administration plan to cut up to 400 screeners at the airport.

The Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport is expecting its busiest summer ever and the cuts "would be disastrous for customer service, the hassle factor and crowding at the world's busiest airport," airport general manager Ben DeCosta said.

DeCosta said he found out about the cuts in a Friday meeting with Atlanta's federal security director, Willie Williams.

DeCosta said he has asked the TSA to justify cutting positions and will seek help from Georgia's congressional delegation if necessary.

In a written statement, the TSA said it was "premature" to talk about specific numbers of screener cuts at the airport. Spokesman Christopher White would say only that the TSA is working to meet a congressional mandate to limit the number of security screeners nationwide to 45,000.

The Transportation Security Administration has about 47,000 screeners nationwide, including about 1,400 in Atlanta, DeCosta said.

In its statement, the TSA said it would "work closely with its partners at the airport and the airlines to accommodate this change with minimal impact on customers."

The federal agency will probably shed jobs mostly by workers leaving voluntarily rather than through layoffs, DeCosta said. The turnover rate at the Atlanta airport is about 25 percent, he said.

Traffic at Hartsfield-Jackson, where security screeners say they are already understaffed, has risen from 79 million travelers in 2003 to 84 million in 2004. The airport expects 89 million this year.

Already this spring, travelers at the airport have suffered delays, especially when the main checkpoint is not fully staffed during peak hours.

On April 4 - during spring break - some passengers had to wait as long as 42 minutes to get through security, airport spokeswoman Felicia Browder said.

Last year, wait times during the Monday morning business-traveler crush were as long as 1 hour, 20 minutes.