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Relief coming for airport bottleneck

SHAUN STANLEY/Durango Herald file photo

Durango-La Plata County Airport expects to add a second X-ray machine by June, and that should help ease security delays the airport has being experiencing since a more sophisticated scanner was sent to a larger airport.

By Stefanie Dazio
Herald Staff Writer

WASHINGTON – Durango-La Plata County Airport should have a second X-ray machine for carry-on luggage operational by May or June, just weeks after its body scanner is moved to a different airport, officials said.

The L-3 body scanner – nicknamed the “Gumby” because it produces a generic, cartoon-shaped image of passengers – was taken from the airport in mid-February and sent to a larger airport with more traffic to replace a scanner that made explicit, full-body images. Other airports experienced similar measures after finding privacy concerns in a different type of scanner.

The Durango airport is using a single metal detector and pat-downs for security.

The addition of a second X-ray machine is unrelated to the L-3 scanner’s departure, according to the Transportation Security Administration.

Sens. Michael Bennet, D-Colo., and Mark Udall, D-Colo., wrote a letter to the TSA on Tuesday, urging the agency to bring the Gumby-like machines back to Colorado’s smaller airports as soon as possible.

Rep. Scott Tipton, R-Cortez, had conversations with the TSA, according to spokesman Josh Green. Tipton is concerned about the agency disproportionally targeting small airports, especially during the ski season, Green said.

Gary Suiter, interim airport director, said the airport has not suffered any customer-service delays from the loss of the L-3 scanner. However, the Herald reported that at least 20 passengers missed their flights in February because of security-line bottlenecks.

According to the report, lines extended from the checkpoint to the front of the airline ticket counters. The departure lounge became so congested that the security checkpoint has had to temporarily shut down for safety reasons.

But the backups weren’t the fault of the metal detector, Suiter said. It was the lone X-ray machine.

“Those machines have a capacity of X, and that’s been the primary pinch point of the delay,” he said.

Suiter said he has not heard if or when the airport will get another L-3 scanner, but added that the TSA has worked with the airport to minimize problems.

Stefanie Dazio is a student at American University in Washington, D.C., and an intern for The Durango Herald. You can reach her at sdazio@durangoherald.com.

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