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The suspect case created much unease at Argyle International Airport. (iWN file photo)
The suspect case created much unease at Argyle International Airport. (iWN file photo)
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A police officer who abandoned his post to sit at a cafeteria and an unclaimed cell phone not properly stored were among the things that the Transport Safety Administration (TSA) of the United States frowned upon during their recent audit of security arrangements at Argyle International Airport.

Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves, on Monday, gave some insights into some of the findings of the two TSA inspectors who spent just over two days examining the security at the airport, which opened on Feb. 14.

Speaking at a press conference in Kingstown, Gonsalves reiterated that the TSA had not given the airport’s security systems a failing grade, as suggested on radio personality Dwight “Bing” Joseph’s Boom FM two weeks ago.

Gonsalves said the TSA does not “pass” or “fail” an airport.

The TSA is an agency of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security that has authority over the security of the travelling public in the United States. It is charged with providing effective and efficient security for passenger and freight transportation in the United States.

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Gonsalves said that the TSA would audit airports and seaports around the world, in much the same way that the Federal Aviation Administration would audit the Eastern Caribbean Civil Aviation Authority, of which St. Vincent and the Grenadines is a part.

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The prime minister said that because the TSA is from the wealthiest country in the world, which has such high traffic in shipping and civil aviation, their institutions acquire a certain presence globally and particularly in this hemisphere.

Gonsalves, who is also Minister of National Security, said he had a discussion with the two TSA personnel who audited AIA.

“We had just a background discussion because I am not involved in the technical aspects of this thing,” said Gonsalves who told the media that the TSA representatives examined the airport itself, the aerodrome, the perimeter fence, the cargo terminal, the passenger terminal, and all the various security points.

During their time at the airport, the TSA officials were talking to the security personnel and airport management, he said.

“And they had a debriefing session with Corsel Robertson, the Director of Airports, and the airport management,” Gonsalves told the media.

“And as they (Director of Airports & AIA management) said in their public statement, is what they said to me – that in the debriefing, it was quite positive,” the prime minister said.

He, however, went on to speak about “some simple things” that the TSA officials told the AIA about, “which, within the week after they had left, they had put in place and there are other things which they were talking about they are addressing, but that the response which they gave was generally quite positive”.

Gonsalves reiterated that TSA doesn’t pass or fail an airport.

“They give you an assessment. They’re working with you as a partner, and they will say these are areas of weaknesses.”

He said it is the same approach when the TSA examines airports in the United States.

Gonsalves said he was given a couple of examples, like, for instance, there are two policemen stationed at the entrance of the airport, but when the TSA was there, one of the policemen had sat down at the cafeteria talking to someone.

“Then, there was a phone which was left by somebody — not that there is anything in the phone, but you don’t know what that device is there for. It should be picked up and taken to a particular centre immediately,” Gonsalves said.

He further commented:  “Little things like that, but important.”

The prime minister said all the persons involved at the airport have been trained and are doing additional training and those who have not reached the pass mark in the training have been given a second opportunity.

“There’s lots of training going on and it is good that the TSA came at the same time so that they can see what training we are doing on an on-going basis.”

Ralph Gonsalves
Prime Minister Dr. Ralph Gonsalves speaks at the press conference on Monday. (iWN photo)

Gonsalves further said that when the TSA visited, AIA had about 90 security officers, but the optimal might be 105.

“I don’t know. Not that 90 can’t do the job,” Gonsalves said.

“I am just giving you anecdotal statements which were reported to me secondhand,” he said.

“As the minister of civil aviation?” iWitness News asked Gonsalves.

“I would imagine that you would get a detailed and full briefing,” iWitness News further commented.

Gonsalves said:

“Yeah, yeah, yeah. But what I am saying is this: I am not there; I didn’t speak to the people. Like you, I will ask, well tell me some of the things, preliminarily, you know, before we get the full report.”

Gonsalves said there was commendation for the way the airport security dealt with a particular individual, who Gonsalves said the TSA personnel said it could be seen “that he was out for something. I don’t know, like he too big to go through things in St. Vincent.

“But they commended the person who was at security who dealt with it. Dealt with him well.”

He said the individual went through security and there was an alarm and the security personnel told him to go through again.

Gonsalves said that while the individual was reluctant to go back, he did so without causing a scene.

While this was going on, another person in the traveller’s party was taking photographs, the prime minister said.

“But there was no sign up in that area saying no photographing allowed. So that sign should be up,” Gonsalves said.

“I am talking about these sorts of things to give a flavour of the extent to which everybody has to deal with security.”

The prime minister further said that before taking a flight at AIA on March 14, he went to talk to the workers at Customs.

“They, like everybody else, have to be screened. Even though they have arresting powers, they have a security dimension to them, when you come in, if you go out, when you are coming back in, you have to be screened,” Gonsalves said.

He further said that persons who are highly trained have to get accustomed to an international airport and the standards, which are required of it.

The prime minister said he does not know if the TSA will give a preliminary report but he understands that the TSA will send in a report after about 45 days.

“Again, this is not a pass or fail report. And, the operators, the airlines which come, they don’t look for these things. They look to see the systems you have in place because you are not going to have ‘a perfect security’ but what you have to do is to make sure that you have good systems, good equipment, well-trained persons who have the consciousness to address these issues,” Gonsalves said.