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Airline security flunks FAA test at Hailey

Express Staff Writer

Airlines and management at Hailey’s Friedman Memorial Airport are reviewing security systems after an unannounced Federal Aviation Administration test revealed problems.

"We loaded a bag and carried a bag on a flight out of Sun Valley without the passenger who checked the bag," said Horizon Air spokesman Bob Russo. "According to our procedures, that should not have happened."

An undercover FAA employee checked in the bag on June 26, Russo said, to test whether a person could plant anything on a Horizon plane without actually boarding it.

Robert Blunk, manager of the FAA Civil Aviation Security Division in Renton, Wash., said security at small airports like Hailey’s is important for another reason. In some situations they provide security for larger airports, too.

"If you board an airplane in Hailey and transfer to another flight in Salt Lake City, you might not be re-screened" by security there, Blunk said, and your baggage might not be, either.

Russo said the FAA had not yet fined Horizon or imposed any other penalty. He said Horizon staff is meeting to review training and security.

Hailey’s two regularly scheduled air carriers share X-ray and metal detector equipment that scan luggage and passengers boarding planes. Details about security procedures are kept secret.

No security guard is stationed at the airport. The city of Hailey provides police protection, when needed.

For Hailey airport management, the FAA inspection means "some tweaking of our security plan is going to have to be done," said Rick Baird, airport manager.

He said the airport is replacing outdated sliding gates and keypad entry systems for private pilots with newer, more secure hydraulic gates and swipe card systems. But the airport was in the process of installing the new $27,000 gates anyway, he said.

Without elaborating, Russo said the FAA inspectors "came across some other things" with SkyWest Airline’s security, but that report has not been confirmed with SkyWest spokesperson David Clark.

People with Horizon, SkyWest, the FAA and the airport are reluctant to discuss security in detail, they say, because that could help anyone who would try to subvert it.

"Someone could reverse-engineer the process and find a way around the system," Blunk said. FAA officials have caught people videotaping security checkpoints at other airports, he said, probably to figure out how to smuggle drugs.

He said he could not confirm or deny any information about tests or inspections at Hailey.

Speaking about airport security in general, he said, the FAA reviews records and inspects and tests airports about twice each year.

"We’ve been doing a lot of things in preparation for the Olympics, I’ll tell you that," he said.

The Hailey airport provides a direct link to the airport in Salt Lake City, which will service the 2002 winter Olympics in nearby Park City. But Blunk said he does not believe the Hailey airport provides a "backdoor" through Salt Lake City security.

Baird agreed with that. "We’re not updating anything for the Olympics," he said. Rather, current security improvements are an effort to meet standard FAA requirements.

The Idaho Mountain Express is distributed free to residents and guests throughout the Sun Valley, Idaho resort area community. Subscribers to the Idaho Mountain Express will read these stories and others in this week's issue.