Airport Quadruples Security Budget To Protect Passengers

Two weeks ago, a Mississippi man got onto a plane in New Orleans carrying a gun. Last week, a man got through Chicago's screening area even though he had weapons in his bag. Airport leaders here at the Gulfport airport are determined to prevent those sorts of situations.

That's resulted in a few minor inconveniences for Gulfport passengers. Just ask Betty McKelvey. She said her airport experience has been like hitting the daily double. On her flight to Gulfport, and on the trip back to North Carolina, a ticket counter computer randomly picked her bag for a security search. "I didn't mind," McKelvey said. "As a matter of fact, I was very glad they did it."

Random bag searches are just one of the security changes at Gulfport Biloxi International Airport. Another change is at the passenger screening area. Surrounding the scanning machines are security officers and National Guardsmen. They're keeping watchful eyes on carry on luggage.

Airport Director Bruce Frallic said, "You've got several people watching over the whole activity very closely."

Until September, the Gulfport airport budgeted $110,000 for security. After hijacked planes crashed into the Pentagon and the World Trade Center, the security budget jumped to $406,000. "If that's what it takes to get it done right," Frallic said, "that's what we're going to do."

Tony Cusatis had no problems with the extra security. The North Carolina passenger arrived at the Gulfport airport two hours early, so security wouldn't hinder his trip hom. He said, "As long as we do things that will protect our country, I'm satisfied."

Passengers will notice even more of an airport security presence next month. That's when Gulfport police will replace reserve officers with a new airport division, made up of seven full time officers. Frallic said, "These are all fantastic folks with great experience in dealing with the public and they will be fully trained and understand airport operations."

Right after September 11, the FAA closed Gulfport's short term parking area, because the spaces were too close to the terminal. The airport has asked for permission to reopen the lot. If it does, airport leaders say they'll have security guards visually search every car. Bruce Frallic expects the FAA to decide the future of the short term lot sometime in the next 10 days.