Saturday, June 20, 2009

Airport's New Baggage Handling System Operational

By The Yapper
Editor In Chief

Airline passengers traveling to and from the Commonwealth got a breath of fresh air this week as Saipan International Airport officially unveiled its new $15-million baggage handling system.

“The long wait for the future of travel in the Marianas is over,” said Commonwealth Ports Authority Executive Director, Efrain F. Camacho. “It took more than five years, but we’ve finally got something we can be proud of at the airport.”

In a move meant to alleviate long lines at the ticket counters, the Saipan facility became just the third airport in the Federal Aviation Administration’s system to implement the state of the art Basic Automated Linear Scanning Assistance Configuration (BALSAC).

BALSAC is a next generation Transportation Security Administration-approved baggage handling and explosive detection system that scans passenger luggage automatically upon check-in. The baggage is then transported via conveyor belt to the ground handlers on a lower level.

In 2004, the FAA conducted a comprehensive review of Saipan’s passenger load from 1993-2003 and determined that the Commonwealth was in need of a more efficient security system.

The system was supposed to be completed over two years ago under former CPA Executive Rex I. Palacios, but federal monitors indicated that the CPA leadership had been operating without a BALSAC the entire time Palacios was calling the shots at the airport.

Palacios’ lengthy term as CPA Executive Director was wrought with claims of fraud, waste and abuse, and he was criticized for allowing the airport’s generators to fall in a state of disrepair and for failing to finish the baggage project.

In 2008, Governor Benigno R. Fitial asked Camacho to reorganize the command structure within the CPA. A self-made man with a profitable private business, Camacho agreed for the sake of the Commonwealth, but he did so with the understanding that he would only hold the post for a period of one year.

“When I was asked to run the CPA, I knew that I was going to need a large BALSAC if I was going to make any progress. It took me less than a year to get a productive BALSAC. For this, I credit my parents,” said Camacho.

While many planners worked tirelessly to design a baggage system, Palacios fired countless contractors who never stood up to him because they were unable to produce evidence of BALSAC development.

Despite several allegations of poor performance and lackluster management skills, Palacios said that he did the best he could without a BALSAC and that he made at least one important contribution to the safety of travelers flying in and out of Saipan.

Through the help of grant writers from the Air Travelers Association, Palacios was able to secure funding from the federal government to procure a Flight Line Advanced Communications and Collision Indication Device (FLACCID).

When asked why his office never held a press conference to introduce the new equipment to the Commonwealth, Palacios said he thought that most of the people in the CNMI had already heard about his FLACCID unit through word of mouth.

“I kept it pretty low key when I introduced my FLACCID unit to the staff at the airport because I never really thought it was something to brag about,” said Palacios.

While currently in use, Saipan’s new baggage handling system is in its final 30-day test run and on schedule to receive its certification from the Transportation Security Administration.

*Editor's Note: In the absence of a locally published newspaper on Sundays, Saipan Fake News will focus on headlines from around the world. In the future, we hope to offer editorial pieces from our columnists as well various features including Home & Garden, Technology Today, The Single Life, Environment, Youth On The Move and Hodgepodges by Ron Hodges.