NEW YORK (AP) — The federal government has cracked down on four area airports, including some of the nation's busiest, for what it calls "egregious" violations of safety and rescue regulations involving more than 250 police officers.
The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which oversees the states' bridges, tunnels and transit hubs, confirmed Monday that it was fined $3.5 million for training lapses going back to 2010 at Kennedy, LaGuardia, Newark Liberty and Teterboro airports. Kennedy and LaGuardia, in Queens, and Newark Liberty, in Newark, N.J., are among the most heavily trafficked airports in the country, each handling tens of millions of passengers a year.
The Port Authority officers attended recertification sessions, but some of the paperwork that proves it was lost or wasn't completed, agency spokeswoman Lisa MacSpadden said. In addition, an undetermined number of officers may have missed hours of training, MacSpadden said.
U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said in a statement Monday that the violations "were egregious, and they will not be tolerated."
The Port Authority has been working with the Federal Aviation Administration to rectify the failures, detailed in a new agreement between the Port Authority and the FAA to create an independent aircraft rescue and firefighting force without additional duties as police officers.
Port Authority officials say they currently are in full compliance with training requirements.
The Port Authority Police Benevolent Association on Monday denied that its officers' rescue efforts were unsafe.
"We would put up our firefighting response against any airport in the country, as borne out by repeated citations in National Air Traffic Safety Board reports," Port Authority PBA President Paul Nunziato said in a statement. "Our response provides the safest and most efficient method to address the myriad of issues facing our airports, including the ever present threat of terrorist attack, and we deploy more trained firefighters than any airport in the country."
Officers now provide critical life safety functions during plane incidents, from firefighting and passenger rescue to basic medical support and assisting in water rescues. They're also trained to operate sophisticated equipment.
The lapses were revealed during an FAA inspection of John F. Kennedy International Airport in December 2011.
That year and the first half of 2012, personnel at Kennedy were inadequately trained, according to the settlement. For a month in May and June 2012, the airport had 77 police officers serving 357 shifts without proper training, the FAA said.
During that time, the Port Authority also failed to ensure proper officer training for 341 days at LaGuardia and 378 days at Newark, the settlement said.
MacSpadden said that without the proper records, it's difficult for the bi-state agency to say how many officers may have missed portions of the 40-hour training or how many could prove recertification if documents were available.
The agency has recruited a veteran of the New York Police Department, Joseph Dunne, and a former Fire Department of New York commissioner, Tom Von Essen, to review "the underlying problems that led to systemic noncompliance," the FAA said Monday in a statement.
It said a nationwide search is underway for a new fire chief and captains.
LaHood said he expects all airports "to comply with our safety regulations and to correct any deficiencies immediately."
Officers are now required to undergo 80 hours of initial training and 40 hours of additional training each year. In the future, they'll receive an additional 75 hours of core training and the annual sessions will be expanded to 80 hours.
Port Authority: http://www.panynj.gov/airports
Follow Verena Dobnik at http://twitter.com/verenachirps