Lots of guns found at Nevada airports, few fines levied

The Federal Aviation Administration proposed fines for just 19 of 112 security lapses spotted at Nevada airports over the past decade, an Associated Press analysis shows.

The proposed fines - in 17 percent of the Nevada cases compared with a national average of about 25 percent - were sought mainly from airlines responsible for hiring airport security crews.

The rest of the Nevada security violations resulted mainly in warning letters.

The FAA records also show security crews stopped 2,452 people, mostly passengers, in Nevada airports and made them hand over an array of banned items.

In half the stops listed in the FAA records from 1990 to 2000, the contraband was firearms related. That included loaded or unloaded weapons, stun guns, rifles or ammunition for the weapons.

Other items caught by security personnel ranged from knives to bogus documents or incomplete paperwork on materials being shipped by air.

In some cases, airline and FAA inspectors tried to get banned items through security. In other cases, passengers or airport visitors were carrying the contraband.

About three-quarters of the incidents occurred at McCarran International Airport in Las Vegas and about a fourth at Reno-Tahoe International Airport.

The remaining cases - about 1 percent - occurred at smaller airports in Las Vegas, the Reno area, Elko and Ely.

''It's scary,'' said Bonnie May, 31, of Duluth, Minn., who flew in to McCarran last Thursday. ''It makes you nervous to fly, to put your life in other people's hands.''

Pam Stevens, 56, of Lakewood, Colo., said she's glad to see security has been tightened since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on the East Coast.

But she added, ''I'm just wondering how long before they get lax about that again.''

Of the 112 Nevada security violations that led to proposed fines or warning letters, the fine proposals totaled $409,068. The FAA won't release the actual amounts paid. Generally, however, fines are bargained down during a negotiation process.

America West tallied the highest dollar amount in proposed fines over the 10-year period, with the FAA suggesting the airline pay $100,333 for security violations in Nevada.

Of the named airlines, Southwest Airlines was second with proposed fines of $57,500 in Nevada.

A handful of the cases that resulted in sanctions named the main airports in Reno, Las Vegas, Elko and Ely. But most named specific airlines.

Airport officials in Reno and Las Vegas say the airlines were hit with the proposed fines because it's their responsibility to contract with companies providing airport security, and lapses by the security firms' workers were the main cause of the citations.

International Total Services Inc. has the security contract at Reno-Tahoe International. The Cleveland company just filed for bankruptcy protection but said its move had nothing to do with the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in New York, Washington and Pennsylvania.

A spokesman for the company, which provides security services across the United States, didn't return calls seeking comment on the FAA data.

At McCarran International, the security contract is held by Argenbright Security, based in Atlanta and owned by Securicor PLC of Britain.

Argenbright spokeswoman Sara Jackson said the company is working hard to ensure its employees understand stringent new FAA directives. ''We're being much more cautious,'' she added.

''Clearly there's going to be in-depth discussion and debate around the nation as to what we need to do to provide improved security systems,'' said Reno-Tahoe International Airport spokesman Adam Mayberry.

Asked whether the low number of proposed fines compared with warnings suggested lax policing by the FAA, Mayberry added, ''I think the American public is going to have to make up its own mind on that.''

McCarran International spokeswoman Debbie Millett declined to comment on the FAA data, other than to say ''security is always a priority for us. It goes without saying.''


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