"They're out of our jurisdiction," says Mike Fergus, FAA Regional Public Affairs Officer. Even though Kenmore Air's six- to 10-seaters log two million miles between the U.S. and Canada each year and carry 60,000 passengers, with round-trip prices between $160 and $180, Fergus says, "The operation does not qualify as an airport."
To get on board a national or international flight, it only takes an American or Canadian passport, or any two of the following: driver's license, voter registration card, or birth certificate. Passengers can bring 24 pounds of uninspected baggage.
Kenmore Air General Manager Todd Banks says, "There are no X-ray machines in remote locations. You don't go through a metal detector and bags are not searched until you reach your destination."
On its website, Kenmore Air even boasts about the permissive check-in policy at the company's Lake Union terminal. "Tickets aren't necessary. Just tell your name. Don't look for departure gates. There aren't any. We'll direct you to a picnic table where you'll meet your pilot and fellow passengers. Feed the ducks 'til it's time to go."
Kenmore Air's security "leaks like a sieve," says Mike Rees, board member and past president of the Seattle Council on Airport Affairs. "I would hope there would be some actual physical inspection of passengers and baggage. Whether an airplane holds 300 people or three people, the same level of security should apply."
Compared to other high-risk operations in this region, Kenmore Air's lack of security stands out. For example, every bag and purse caried into the September 23 Seahawks game was thoroughly searched by hand as fans entered Husky stadium.
In the wake of the WTC attack, the FAA is requiring the seaplane company to make changes. Kenmore Air can no longer fly banner advertising, they can't train pilots in their flight school, they have to honor a no-fly zone over Bangor Naval Submarine Base, Paine Field, and Bremerton Naval Air Station, and all their pilots are now required to file flight plans for each leg of their trips. En route to their destinations, they must punch in certain pre-arranged transponder codes to let the FAA know where they are.
"There's more scrutiny on what we're doing now," says Tim Brooks, Kenmore's Public Affairs Officer. "If a plane were to turn off [of the designated flight plan], we could be intercepted."
Residents in neighborhoods bordering the Lake Washington Ship Canal say Kenmore Air pilots have a history of ignoring official routes. According to the terms of the 1989 City of Seattle Lake Union Seaplane Agreement, the seaplanes are supposed to take off from the south end of Lake Union and fly west, directly over the ship canal. Locals say the company cuts corners, flying northwest over residential areas. Even now, although Kenmore has to file flight plans with the FAA, some planes have been seen flying over Fremont and Ballard.
Kenmore pilot Greg Munro says only the company's new turbine planes, which climb to a higher (quieter) altitude, deviate from the mandated flight path. "The majority of our flights still fly precisely over the canal," he says.
Given the current national security alert--and the risks to passengers and people living along their flight path--you'd think Kenmore Air could hand-search baggage and make an effort to keep their planes over the ship canal.