At many small airports, passengers don't go through security - KMOV.com

At many small airports, passengers don't go through security

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By Stephanie Baumer By Stephanie Baumer

(KMOV.com) - Imagine showing up at the airport and getting on a plane without going through security. That's the reality at some small airports and for some passengers landing at Lambert International Airport.

During a News 4 investigation, the station discovered that there was no TSA Security at the Jonesboro, Ark. Airport.  Passengers bound for Lambert simply show up and get on the plane.  While it is a small airport, it is a commercial flight and anyone can purchase a ticket.

Jonesboro isn't the only small airport without TSA, police, or any form of security.

In Hot Springs, Ark. their airport boards 3,000 passengers a year, and none of them go through security. The airport's director told News 4 he doesn't like that.

“It's always been my concern that the smaller airports would be a prime target,” airport director George Downie told News 4.

Downie says his airport, and others like it, had TSA agents after the September 11 terror attacks, but that changed in 2009 when bigger 19-passenger planes were replaced by smaller 9-passenger planes, which the TSA calls air taxis.

The rules are not the same for all small airports like Jonesboro and Hot Springs. In Decatur, IL, which also only lands small 9-passenger planes, there are four TSA agents on duty when passengers board planes.

 “We have to have that type of security especially when you see what's happening globally in the last few weeks” said Rep Rodney Davis (R-IL), who represents Decatur in Congress. Davis also sits on the aviation subcommittee.

When News 4 told Davis airports just like Decatur don't have security, Davis was surprised.

“I go through Decatur and (I) go through security, I’m not aware of any airport that doesn't provide security when it comes to passengers,” Davis said.

News 4’s investigation revealed there was no security at airports stretching from Puerto Rico to Hawaii. At least 13 of them have small passenger planes but no TSA.

When passengers arrive at Lambert they board a van and if they plan to connect to another destination they must go through screening. However, it's not until they arrive at the bigger airport that bags are screened and passengers go through a metal detector.

More than a potential terrorist threat, Downie is worried about something else.

“I’m worried about unstable people, I’ve been personally involved in several people detained because of their mental instability,” Downie said.

Downie says at his airport, individuals without tickets have tried to board the planes which have no cockpit door. 

The carrier that operates out of Hot Springs, just like Jonesboro and Decatur, receives federal subsidies because the routes aren't profitable. Taxpayers spend $260 million a year to operate those flights nationally as part of the Essential Air Service program, but in at least 13 cases, there's no money spent to keep the passengers and crew safe.

There's no rhyme or reason as to why some small airports served by small planes like Decatur get TSA and ones like Jonesboro do not.

A TSA spokesperson tells News 4 it’s not possible to eliminate all risk, so they focus on managing and mitigating risk. The spokesman also said most small airports that still have screening most likely had bigger planes at one time.

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