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Thu, Feb 21, 2008

Montana Airports Consider Privatized Security

TSA Wants Companies To Handle Checkpoints

It takes a lot of green to operate a bureaucracy. Officials at Missoula International Airport (MSO) in Montana may soon decide to hire a private company to oversee security, as the federal government looks to save some cash.

The Missoulian newspaper reports the Transportation Security Administration recently encouraged Montana airports to make the switch, in order to save the government some money. TSA has contracted with private security companies at other airports nationwide for the same reason, though comparatively few airports have opted to make the move... many of them citing an "if-it's-not-broken-don't-fix-it" mindset.

The request comes as TSA prepares to contract out security measures at seven commuter airports in Big Sky Country. Those airports --  including Glasgow, Lewistown, Miles City, and Sydney -- currently have little in the way of security screening.

Missoula Airport director Cris Jensen says TSA wants to know if other airports in Montana also want to adopt private screening firms... so the agency can bid for one contract, with a lone company handling the state's airport security needs. In theory, that move would save TSA some money; the savings for MSO could be as much as $90,000.

Jensen notes it costs that much now to post a security guard at his airport's checkpoint's exit lane, 16 hours per day. If a private company took over screening, that company would absorb that cost.

"It certainly merits a conversation," he said, noting a decrease in airports -- which are often, in turn, passed on to airlines -- could help attract greater commercial airline service.

"There's a lot of pressure on airports to do everything in their power to get their rates and charges under control," Jensen said.

Currently, MSO has about 40 TSA employees. They could opt to join the new private company, Jensen said, or transfer to another airport.

While the privatization of security operations holds definite appeal for Missoula, Jensen notes the airport has little-to-no influence on the government's eventual decision. Other state facilities, such as Helena Regional Airport (HLN), remain ambivalent on the issue.

"There are different circumstances at each airport," said HLN director Ronald Mercer. "In Helena, either way is fine. Technically, the same services are provided. We are not looking at this right now."

FMI: www.tsa.gov, www.helenaairport.com, www.msoairport.org

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