The Department of Transportation wants security directors at large airports to make up to $150,000 a year and to have advanced degrees.
The Department of Transportation, which last month agreed with Congress in deciding not to require high school diplomas for airport screeners, has taken a different approach in hiring the security directors at the largest airports.
It is offering one of the highest salaries in government service, up to $150,000 a year, and is suggesting that applicants have advanced degrees and extensive experience in law enforcement or crisis management.
As the government began accepting applications last week for what may be the most critical jobs in the new aviation security system, early indications were that the 81 positions would not be difficult to fill.
Less than 24 hours after the Web site accepting applications was activated, the search company hired by the Transportation Department to fill the positions had received more than 1,200 inquiries, with little advance publicity. Frank Cahouet Jr., managing director of the company, Korn/Ferry International, said he expected tens of thousands of people to apply for the jobs.
"This will be a very attractive job," Mr. Cahouet said, "and I think the salary is a signal of its importance. I expect we'll even be seeing corporate security directors offer to take pay cuts for a job like this because people want to be part of the solution to this problem."
The airport security directors will have direct responsibility for the security of passengers, baggage and cargo at their airports, and they will be in charge of all law enforcement activities regarding security. They have the power to shut an airport after a security breach, and if a screener allows a weapon through the checkpoints, it will be the director who is ultimately blamed.
The 28,000 screeners who will run the X-ray machines and metal detectors will make about $35,000 a year once they become federal employees in November, considerably more than most make now.
But the Transportation Department has come under fire for not imposing more rigorous application requirements in an effort to reduce the turnover of screeners. Currently, screeners are employed and supervised by private companies.
"It's like a Jekyll and Hyde situation," said Senator Charles E. Schumer, Democrat of New York. "They have very rigorous requirements for the directors, but are too lax on the screeners. What Congress envisioned was an upgrade to both screeners and supervisors."
Mr. Schumer said he would introduce legislation to amend the recently passed airport security law to require high school diplomas for the screeners, and he predicted that it would have no trouble passing.
While the screeners are not required to have any specific experience and typically come from low- paying jobs, the directors will come from a different pool. Applicants are expected to be police chiefs, military colonels or airline security directors, many of whom make considerably less than the new positions offer.
The guidelines on the Web site say candidates will have to demonstrate "world-class security leadership" and should be at least at the midpoint of a career.
The application requires candidates to state the largest budget they have managed and the highest degree they have received.
The salary will be on a par with some of the highest-paid government executives. John Magaw, the new under secretary of transportation for security who will supervise the airport directors, receives a base salary of $141,300.
"The salary reflects the fact that these positions are the backbone of the new agency," said Paul Takemoto, a spokesman for the Transportation Security Administration, which Mr. Magaw will direct.
Although the interest in the director jobs is high, department officials expect only a few candidates to have the necessary credentials. Giving someone the authority to shut an airport will require that the person pass extensive background checks, enough to earn a "top secret" government clearance, and file financial disclosure reports. (The only way to apply for the jobs is through the Web site set up by Korn/Ferry at www.dot-tsa.com.)
The job requirements and salaries apply to only 81 airports: the 21 Category X airports, which include Kennedy International Airport in New York, as well as airports in Atlanta, Chicago, Los Angeles and Washington; and the 60 Category 1 airports, which include airports in San Diego, Tampa, Fla., Nashville and Kansas City, Mo., as well as La Guardia in New York.
Mr. Takemoto said the details had not been set for the security directors at the other 348 airports where the federal government will assume control of security later this year.
Aviation experts said the positions carry extraordinarily flexible operational authority.
"They shouldn't have any trouble getting good people," said Douglas R. Laird, former director of security for Northwest Airlines and now vice president of an aviation consulting firm in Washington. "Most police chiefs don't make anything like that kind of money, and they'd be happy for a chance to have hands-on control of a major security position."