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Passenger luggage runs through the X-ray machine at the Ramstein Air Base, Germany, before entering the terminal.
Passenger luggage runs through the X-ray machine at the Ramstein Air Base, Germany, before entering the terminal. (Sean E. Cobb / S&S)

RAMSTEIN AIR BASE, Germany — U.S. commercial airports were given a Dec. 31 deadline to begin screening luggage for explosives, but it is unclear if military airports in Europe are doing the same.

Following the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks, the Transportation Security Administration — the new government agency in charge of airport security since the attacks — set rules to make the nation’s airlines safer.

Last year, the administration set the Dec. 31 deadline for the luggage screening — something the military’s busiest airport in Europe has been doing for more than a year.

Military airports are not required to comply with the new guidelines because the airports are on bases where security is already tight, said Brian Doyle, a spokesman for the transportation administration. However, all military airports have the option of complying with the guidelines voluntarily, Doyle said.

The Ramstein passenger terminal has checked all luggage for explosive devices since the terror attacks, said Master Sgt. Dan Wilson, 723rd Air Mobility Squadron passenger service ground operations noncommissioned officer in charge.

Whether other military air terminals in Europe are doing the same is not known. Ramstein and U.S. Air Forces in Europe officials referred questions regarding other military airports to the Air Mobility Command, headquartered at Scott Air Force Base, Ill.

Despite more than two weeks of repeated attempts to reach the command, officials failed to respond to phone and e-mail messages. Stars and Stripes also sent questions via e-mail to the command Monday, but officials have yet to respond.

Ramstein terminal workers have been using a combination of X-ray scanners, handheld explosives detectors, random hand-searches and searches by explosive-sniffing dogs, Wilson said. All luggage gets checked, he said.

The Air Mobility Command furnished the security equipment, so Ramstein officials have no idea how much complying with the new standards cost, Wilson said.

Initially, the Transportation Security Administration required commercial airports to screen with large electronic explosive detection machines. But the $750,000 machines, which are about the size of mini-vans, are manufactured by only two companies.

In November, transportation administration officials reported there were not enough of the large scanning machines to go around, according to an administration press release. The administration then approved extensions into early this year for some airports to receive the machines.

Terminals without the machines, meanwhile, have been allowed to use hand searches and the explosive-sniffing dogs.

All 429 commercial airports in the United States now meet the requirement to screen luggage for explosives, said Adm. James Loy, the Undersecretary of Transportation for Security.

Searching all bags has not led to delays people are not already familiar with over the past year, Wilson said. If anything, terminal security is less restrictive than a year ago as officials have refined guidelines, Wilson said.

The new regulations have not added any extra people to the security force at Ramstein, Wilson said. If the lines get long, terminal officials simply send an airman over to help the contact security crew, he said.

Even though military airports are not required to comply with the federal guidelines, they do prohibit the same items to be brought aboard their planes.

“We have the exact same standards as commercial airlines,” Wilson said.

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