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TIA plans to screen bags by Dec. 31

Although Congress has given the nation's airports a yearlong reprieve from the Dec. 31 deadline to begin screening all checked bags for explosives, those in the Tampa Bay area plan to go ahead anyway.

"We're still trying to figure out exactly what the implications are, since the bill only passed last night, and it hasn't even been signed yet by the president," Louis Miller, executive director of the Hillsborough County Aviation Authority, said Wednesday.

"The measure gives the Transportation Security Administration the option of requesting an extension for certain airports, but that doesn't mean that every airport will _ or should _ delay the start of explosives screening," he said.

The congressional action means that beginning Jan. 1, travelers will find spotty use of explosive detection around the country. They could be held up for baggage screening at one airport and not at another. Explosive screening will become more common throughout the year.

Final approval Tuesday of the measure to create a Department of Homeland Security included a provision that extends for a year the deadline for screening checked bags, for which some airports in the country had pleaded.

The large explosive detection machines have footprints the size of minivans and will have to go in ticketing areas for a while. At many airports, these areas are crowded without the equipment. In some airports, the floors won't support the weight.

"We plan on meeting the original Dec. 31 deadline," Miller said, "but that's what airport directors have been saying all along. If you can meet the deadline, fine, but if you can't, you need a little leeway."

Andy Karasick, spokesman for the Transportation Security Administration at St. Petersburg-Clearwater and Sarasota-Bradenton International airports, said those facilities would try to be ready for baggage screening by year's end.

Federal security director Dario Compain said this week he was optimistic that TIA would get the 10 Explosive Detection Systems it needs as well as the 83 smaller trace detectors in time to have them running with trained personnel by the first of the year.

The first two EDS machines are due to arrive at TIA tonight.