Sep 8, 2011 at 11:04 am
ST. CLOUD, Minn. (KNSI) - Ten years after the September 11th terror attacks, there's little question that air travel was one the U.S. industries most impacted in the days, months and years after the strikes that killed nearly 3,000 Americans -- and perhaps no facilities felt that impact more accutely than America's airports.
While security overhauls and new procedures continue to create big lines at some of the nation's busiest largest airports, 9-11 meant big changes even for small facilities like St. Cloud Regional Airport, airport director Bill Towle said.
"Pre 9-11, our airline terminal building was built to handle commerical airline service, but the passengers would simply get on the airplane and be reverse-screened down at MSP (Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport)," said Towle, who came to St. Cloud as airport director in 2002. "After 9-11, that all came to an end. Every airport, regardless of your size, if you had commercial service, you needed to have security screening at your airport."
For six to nine months after September 11th, Towle said the airport scrambled to come up with temporary facilities to accomodate incoming baggage screeners from the newly-created Transportation Security Administration as well places to house the agency's high-tech screening equipment.
"We did have to come up with an airport security plan and we worked with TSA on that," Towle said. "It wasn't overly odorous. At the end of the day, we came up with a buffet of what we could do and certainly within the parameters of being a secure airport."
Of course, even after getting all that new security situated, dealing with the freshly-minted TSA -- under the auspices of the equally-new Office of Homeland Security -- was seldom simple, Towle said.
"We had...federal security directors. I must have had six different FSD's in the first 12 months. It was crazy," Towle said.
Six TSA screeners stationed in St. Cloud were eventually reassigned last year. The move came several months after Delta stopped daily commuter flights between St. Cloud and Minneapolis in 2009, leading to the end of regularly scheduled passenger flights at the airport. TSA security equipment was also removed and redistributed.
Between increased security and the airlines' own troubles that have led to soaring ticket prices, Towle said he's aware that many Americans have soured to air travel. But 10 years after 9/11, Towle said he believes improvements at the nation's airports may finally be starting to bring many of those put-off passengers around.
"I think it's moving in the right direction. I think people are coming back. I think it's becoming more and more like it was 10 years ago," Towle said. "We're doing a better job of getting people through security, making sure there are enough TSA employees and making sure they're doing things as quickly as they can."