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Friday, Aug 01, 2014
Joe Henderson

Henderson: Airport sign is nice, but how about a fence?

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Tampa International Airport is one of the jewels of this area, justly praised as one of the finest places for airline travel in the country. I can tell you from personal experience that when I meet someone and they learn I live here, it’s not unusual to hear how much they love this airport.

So, it doesn’t bother me, too much, that a sign with programmable LED lights, standing 21 feet tall and stretching 30 feet wide, is being built at the entrance to the airport: price tag $631,300.

That’s even more than airport CEO Joe Lopano makes, but if you have something worth shouting about, do it right — although, $631,300 is an awful lot of bragging.

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With that in mind, I do wish the leaders at the airport had been more concerned with security issues first raised by workers speaking to Tampa Tribune reporter Ted Jackovics. Ted’s story atop page 1A on Thursday detailed how passengers and workers say they face possible danger because the 2,400-space employee parking lot isn’t protected by a security fence.

That potentially means anyone could hop on an employee shuttle bus, especially since workers say drivers don’t usually check for proper identification from riders. Or, as Delta flight attendant Florence Andrea Roberts told the Tribune, “Any whack job could get on the employee bus in Tampa.”

The airline employees approached Jackovics to do this story so their concerns would get the attention they deserve. TIA officials were aware of the findings in detail at least 10 days before they were published, so this wasn’t a “gotcha” story about the airport.

Let’s hold on a second: A big fence wouldn’t necessarily stop a motivated whack job with mayhem in mind. Any defense can be penetrated, as we have seen far too often. It would be nice to make that as complicated as possible, though.

The thought that just about anyone could get on the employee bus and be able to get to restricted places in the airport is more than a little chilling.

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Airport officials say they will look into the problem. Well, that’s nice, although a little more urgency would be nice. Didn’t we just see a problem play out at Los Angeles International Airport, where an unemployed mechanic shot a Transportation Security Administration screener to death and wounded three others before his capture?

Earlier this week, there were separate security breeches at the airports in Phoenix and Newark. There will probably be others, which takes us back to the sign at the airport’s entrance.

They have a lot to celebrate these days at TIA. Earlier this month, Copa Airlines began nonstop service to Panama City, which could open up vital South American markets to travel and trade here. There are ambitious plans to expand the airport in the coming years.

Airports are targets, though, and safety is the top priority. So here’s a suggestion: Build the fence. It’s not as sexy as a fancy new sign, but we can live with that.

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