Region

Helena airport blocks TSA from taking full-body scanner

HELENA – Officials at Helena Regional Airport have prevented the U.S. Transportation Security Administration from removing a full-body scanner.

Airport Manager Ron Mercer said workers arrived Thursday night to take the machine, but airport officials stepped in. He said a 30-minute conference call ensued but nothing was resolved.

“They showed up last night and we didn’t let them take the machine,” Mercer told the Independent Record newspaper on Friday.

The airport’s millimeter-wave machine is among those the federal agency wants to remove to replace 174 full-body scanners being taken out of larger airports. The larger airports are losing their low-dose X-ray units because Rapiscan, the company that makes them, was unable to meet a June 2013 congressional deadline for software upgrades to show screeners less-revealing images of passengers.

Mercer said he asked the federal agency for “reasonable advance notice” of the removal of the airport’s scanner and how the agency would deal with problems that would result, such as longer lines and delays.

The federal agency also planned to remove a scanner at Glacier Park International Airport near Kalispell. Airport Director Cindi Martin said the machine was still there Friday, but that was because workers arrived but forgot a special tool and planned to return. Airport officials didn’t return a call from the Associated Press on Saturday.

Losing the body scanners would mean the two airports would return to the older walk-through metal detectors and pat-downs.

“The federal government’s still got to act like a reasonable agency,” Mercer said Friday. “They can’t just blindside you and not tell you what they’re doing.”

He also sent a letter to the Transportation Security Administration.

In an email to the newspaper, a TSA spokesman said: “TSA is committed to upholding the highest levels of security in all airports. We’ll continue to work with airport management to facilitate the intended removal of Advanced Imaging Technology from the Helena Airport.”



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