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TSA explains decision to abandon screening

Air service unpredictability and a need for stable passenger loads at the Klamath Falls airport were listed as reasons why the Transportation Security Administration will not return screening services to the airport.

Michael Irwin, TSA’s federal security director and regional director for Oregon, laid out those factors that led to its decision in a letter to the city Wednesday.

“The unpredictability of air service in the region and the inability to maintain consistent passenger loads does not provide a solid foundation for the expenditure of funds required to re-establish FSROR (screening services) at LMT (Klamath Falls),” Irwin wrote.

 “In the future, should your operational tempo increase and your passenger loads stabilize, your request for (screening services) may be considered again.”

 Airport Director John Barsalou told the Herald and News on Thursday he disagreed with the perspective, adding that until 2014, Klamath Falls has offered air service since 1947.

City Manager Nathan Cherpeski shared Barsalou’s view, saying, “We disagree with TSA's conclusion on the viability of air service in Klamath Falls. We are continuing to work with our congressional delegation in hopes to have this decision reconsidered.

“In the meantime, we are continuing to support PenAir’s discussions with the Port of Portland and TSA to see if we can make the ‘forward’ screening option work.”

Commercial carrier PenAir has not withdrawn its interest to offer air service to Klamath Falls, according to Cherpeski, and is working with the Port of Portland on an alternative screening system for Klamath Falls passengers traveling to Portland International Airport.

The alternative system would mean passengers from Klamath Falls would not be screened by TSA agents locally but would be screened at the Portland air terminal.

Oregon’s congressional delegation spoke out against the concept in a letter signed by Sens. Jeff Merkley and Ron Wyden, both Democrats, and Congressman Greg Walden, R-Ore.

“We understand TSA and the Port of Portland are exploring options to create a more seamless security environment at Portland for flights arriving from un-screened regional airports,” read the statement.

“However, we have concerns about both the viability and the timing of these revisions. In addition, the city, PenAir, the Oregon National Guard and others have expressed to our offices serious concerns regarding the added time and cost this service would have on passengers’ flights, the capability of Portland Airport to facilitate this construction project inside their current buildings, and the yet to be determined security system for a commercial airline flying un-screened passengers into a major metropolitan airport.”

 Additional questions linger for the congressional delegation regarding the TSA decision. The lawmakers asked for a written statement answering their questions from TSA by Nov. 30.

 Lawmakers called commercial air service in Klamath Falls a “vital link” to residents and visitors to Klamath, Lake, Siskiyou and Modoc counties, as well as to the 173rd Fighter Wing of the Oregon Air National Guard.

 Local leaders, such as city councilwoman Trish Seiler, agree.

 Seiler called on TSA to reverse its decision and to re-federalize the airport, which is located in her council Ward 1.

 “There’s really no reason for the TSA to not have a screening site here,” Seiler said, adding that she understands Klamath Falls is not the only area of its size affected.

 “I hope that they listen to our senators and congressman Walden, and that pressure continues to be brought to set up a screening station,” she said.