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Security is paramount in TIA managers' plan for 1999

The managers of Tampa International Airport have a long wish list of improvements they want to implement during 1999, many of them geared to making the airport less expensive, more convenient and safer for the flying public.

The airport, considered by many to be one of the most user-friendly in the country, would become more so if the Aviation Authority board approves the 33-page list of goals and objectives at its first meeting of the year Thursday.

"It's an ambitious program, but we feel it's all needed," said Louis Miller, executive director of the authority.

Foremost in everyone's mind is airport security, in the wake of incidents in November and December in which passengers who might have been carrying weapons and explosives slipped past security before police could be summoned.

Security at the four operational airsides is the responsibility of the airlines and their subcontractors. Authority board members have expressed frustration in recent weeks that they cannot take a hand in upgrading security personnel, increasing the pay _ barely above minimum wage _ to reduce turnover, and toughening standards of performance.

What Miller will propose Thursday is a program to monitor security procedures to make sure they are up to Federal Aviation Authority standards, including periodic tests of the security system to ensure compliance.

While not spelled out, this seems to include the possibility of spot attempts to breach security deliberately to test the system.

Miller also is expected to ask the board for approval to begin the process to outfit each airside with security cameras so, in the event of a breach, there will be a photographic record of the suspect.

Traffic and parking also will be major focuses this year.

"Traffic growth, parking demand and customer expectations necessitate the opening of additional public parking," the goals-and-initiatives document says. "The only location for more parking is remote. Due to a lower level of service, this facility would charge lower fees, and there appears to be an increased demand for such a facility."

The new remote parking area would take over the employee lot near the post office, Miller said. Passenger access would be by continuous shuttle buses. The fees would be lower than in the long-term parking garage, but not so low that they undercut off-airport rental car facilities that offer on-site parking to their customers.

"We're not looking to cause anybody else financial hardship," Miller said.

Rental car traffic at the airport will be monitored with a goal of minimizing peak period snarls, and valet parking would be tweaked to make it a more attractive option.

Before the holidays, the new valet service, which needs to park 100 vehicles a day to turn a profit, was getting far fewer. But Miller said he did not expect to be running valet parking at full speed for several months or more.

"That's why we are giving it a minimum of six months in testing," he said. "It takes time for use to build."

The goals plan, which doesn't include cost estimates, also envisions improvements in the environment for customers waiting for ground transportation.

"These areas are subject to temperature, humidity and wind conditions, as well as fumes and noise," the plan says. "Tentative plans to enclose these areas, thus improving conditions for this segment of customers, have been developed."

In terms of holdover improvements from 1998, the improvements on level three of the landside terminal are expected to be completed and cleaned up by April, and baggage claim will be fully operational again by May.