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Airport security breach flies under the radar

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It was one of the most remarkable American airport security breaches of 2010, and it happened right here in Charlotte. Delvonte Tisdale, 16, somehow got past airport security, onto a tarmac and into the wheel well of a US Airways plane bound for Massachusetts. Pieces of his body were subsequently found splattered across several lawns in an affluent Boston suburb.

In this era of relentless terror attack attempts, you'd think Charlotte aviation director Jerry Orr, who runs the airport, would be concerned enough about this to pick up a phone and make a few calls.

But last Tuesday, a full month after the jaw-dropping security breach, Orr told the Charlotte Observer that all he knew about the incident, which is under investigation by the Massachusetts police, "is what we read in the paper."

Orr didn't call? Write? Surely he could get a detailed briefing, given the national security implications. You'd think Orr's boss, Charlotte City Manager Curt Walton, would be equally concerned. But when it comes to this issue, city bureaucrats don't seem interested in picking up the phone.

Incredibly, last Monday, the same day Orr announced he planned no special review of airport security in light of the incident, Walton said he hadn't talked to Orr about security at the airport, the Observer reported. Really? A 16-year-old kid pulls off one of the biggest national security breaches of the year, and Walton isn't interested enough in what is going on at the city-run airport to call Orr?

The plane Tisdale boarded belonged to the airport's biggest tenant, US Airways. You'd think that by last Monday, a month after Tisdale somehow got on that plane, Orr would have found time to walk down the hallway and ask US Airways about the situation. But in last Monday's Observer, Orr said he hadn't spoken with the airline about it.

The lackadaisical public attitude of Charlotte's leadership has clearly pushed Massachusetts prosecutor William Keating over the edge. Keating, who lead the investigation into Tisdale's death, held a press conference Dec. 10 in which he took aim at Charlotte. Keating called the Tisdale case a "major breach of security" at Charlotte Douglas International Airport and demanded congressional hearings.

"I don't think it's an issue where you pass the ball from one agency to another," Keating said, according to a WBTV story. "Everybody should be looking at what they can do to make sure this doesn't happen."

Last Friday, WBTV reported, the Transportation Security Administration also put out a statement that seemed to direct the blame at Charlotte-Douglas.

"We will work with the airport, which is responsible for access control security, to conduct a thorough investigation based on the facts and information provided by law enforcement," the statement said, according to WBTV. The point, of course, was that the airport didn't seem to be interested in investigating much of anything.

That was followed by Orr's announcement last Monday that he planned "no special review of airport security" after the Tisdale incident. A local uproar then ensued as baffled fliers and a few media outlets called for Orr's head.

After that, Orr finally announced that the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department and the airport would launch an investigation.

Say what? That means that until last Monday, the Charlotte police hadn't planned any investigation of a massive breach of security on city property? Really? To Keating, this was a matter of national security, warranting no less than congressional hearings. But to Charlotte's top brass, this apparently wasn't even worth a trip out to the airport by the police department to ask a few questions.

It's currently unclear exactly who is to blame because the Transportation Security Administration is responsible for security in some parts of the airport and the airport covers other parts. News 14 Carolina reported last week that sources claimed Tisdale didn't get to the tarmac by climbing a fence, but by going through the airport.

Orr may act like he is running some puddle jumper operation in the sticks, but Charlotte-Douglas is a major hub, one of the world's 30 busiest airports. That makes it a target.

Orr, Walton and the gang need to take a refresher course on 9/11, pull their heads out of their rears and step into the post-9/11 world the rest of us live — and fly — in.

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