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Airport seeks parking relief

By By Marianne Todd/The Meridian Star
Oct. 10, 2001
Passengers using Meridian Regional Airport may be able to park their cars closer to the terminal if the Federal Aviation Administration lifts a ban on current parking security measures.
The FAA is reviewing a bomb blast analysis submitted last week by the Meridian Airport Authority, airport manager Tom Williams said Tuesday.
Stringent new security measures put in place after the Sept. 11 attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon mandate that unattended cars cannot be parked within 300 feet of an airport terminal. If a driver or passenger remains in a vehicle, it can stay in terminal parking.
Many travelers, though, find they must park their cars at the former Delco Remy building at the South Industrial Park and take a shuttle to the airport.
The bomb blast analysis option was available to the airport in lieu of hiring specially trained employees to search cars 24 hours a day.
The added security measures will cost the airport authority an estimated $180,000 a year, about $26,000 less than the authority's annual operations and maintenance budget of $206,000.
Williams said the airport authority has a history of conservative operations and a savings account. It has reduced expenses elsewhere, and can manage the current security systems for about two years before seeking a subsidy from the city and county.
While the authority is seeking a reduction in the parking perimeter, Williams said the new security measure may apply to both attended and unattended cars since the authority is allowed to extend their security measures beyond FAA rulings. He declined to comment on the findings of the bomb blast analysis, but added he was puzzled by the FAA's ruling to allow attended cars in terminal parking.
Other security measures include the presence of Mississippi National Guardsmen, who are FAA trained. These security guards act as a security presence within the airport and are authorized to observe security checkpoints only.
Williams said he is not sure what action guards would take in an emergency because their orders are privileged information.
An informal survey conducted within the past few days has indicated most passengers have taken the added security measures with ease and understanding, Williams said.
Marianne Todd is a staff writer for The Meridian Star. Call her at 693-1551, ext. 3236, or e-mail her at mtodd@themeridianstar.com.

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