HELENA – The Transportation Security Administration is removing its full-body scanners from airports in Kalispell and Helena this week to move them to larger airports, Montana airport officials and the agency said.
The move means a return to the older walk-through metal detectors and pat-downs in smaller airports that are losing their scanners, the two Montana airport directors said.
“We’re really disappointed that the TSA is removing them from our airport,” Glacier Park International Airport Director Cindi Martin told The Daily Inter Lake. “People had become comfortable with the scanner. It certainly did speed the process and removed the need for the enhanced pat-down.”
Martin and Helena Regional Airport Director Ron Mercer said Tuesday their airports’ millimeter-wave machines are among those being removed to replace 174 full-body scanners being taken out of larger airports.
The low-dose X-ray units are being removed from the larger airports because Rapidscan, 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.
The Kalispell airport’s scanner was to be removed Wednesday, and the Helena one Thursday.
TSA spokesman Nico Melendez said Wednesday the agency began removing scanners from airports across the country last week, including from Boise International and Phoenix-Mesa Gateway airports, and expects to have the work done by June 1.
The agency wants to “ensure that these units are in place at checkpoints where they’re going to be used for a more significant portion of operating hours,” Melendez said.
Forty-nine airports will be left without machines after they’re moved to other airports, he said. Melendez said he didn’t have a list of the affected airports, but he noted the airports in Billings, Bozeman and Missoula are not slated to lose their scanners.
Mercer issued a statement Wednesday saying, “it is clear the TSA is trying to move very quickly with limited coordination to get as many of the machines removed before anything can be done to stop the process.”
Mercer’s statement also said the Great Falls airport wasn’t going to get the full-body screener it was promised.
Great Falls International Airport Director John Faulkner said Wednesday he hasn’t heard anything definitive, but the airport and the architect on its ongoing $7 million remodeling project have asked the TSA to confirm its equipment plans, which were to include a full-body screener.
The major impetus for the remodel was to update and add security equipment so the airport would have one lane with a metal detector and one with a full-body screener, Faulkner said.
“I feel that they’re going to break that promise,” Faulkner said. After the remodel, Faulkner said, it’s possible the airport will have less capacity to process passengers than it did before.
Faulkner said he questions why “one day it was very important that we have these scanners, and scarcely a few months later it’s not important that we have these scanners” and what effect that will have on security.