Environment - An Emerging Issue

Funding, security, safety among topics at gathering of North American airports

KANSAS CITY — The theme of this year’s annual Conference & Exhibition of Airports Council International-North America was on global opportunity. But there are enough local issues facing airports — U.S. aviation system reauthorization, congestion, and a proposed employee screening initiative — which dominated much of the discussion. The environment was the one global topic on the agenda of most airports here.

Opening speaker DOT Secretary Mary Peters says that the delays the U.S. system currently faces are “a symptom of a system that’s failed.” Besides reiterating the Administration’s position that how we fund the system needs to be revamped, she calls for “market-based mechanisms” such as congestion pricing. It’s one of the proposals that the airport community considers a necessary tool in an emerging toolkit — phraseology that’s becoming part of the airport management vernacular.

FAA Associate Administrator for Airports Kirk Shaffer says that, on the issue of reauthorization, “there’s nothing good to say about a continuing resolution,” referring to the C.R. passed that keeps the aviation system operating and collecting taxes through November 16.

Incoming ACI-NA chair Randy Walker, director of the Las Vegas system of airports, comments, “Congestion has become an issue that has resonated with everybody.

“Of course, the ATC modernization — NextGen — is extremely important. We have got to get a new system and have more efficient airspace.”

Airport groups remain strong supporters of FAA’s proposed NextGen air traffic control modernization plan.

On the topic of infrastructure, ACI-NA president Greg Principato highlighted the association’s estimate of some $87.4 billion needed to be invested in airports.

Employee screening
Transportation Security Administration deputy policy analyst Marie Di Rocco was part of a panel discussion on employee screening. According to Di Rocco, TSA is currently working with ACI-NA, ATA, AAAE, and other associations to develop an employee screening pilot program. The program, she says, will explore five key elements to employee screening, including:

  • behavior recognition,
  • direct, targeted physical screening,
  • use of biometrics,
  • deployment of technology, and
  • employee awareness training.

Approximately 100 airports responded to a survey indicating interest in participating in TSA’s pilot. AAAE and ACI-NA are helping TSA select the participants.

The pilot program will hopefully, Di Rocco says, ward off House Bill 1413, which would require the agency to set up a program with seven airports.

“Out of the seven airports, six of them would have to do 100 percent visible screening at passenger screening checkpoints,” Di Rocco says. Doing so, the panel agrees, would have major consequences for airports, without doing much for security.

“What we’re asking is to be allowed to be flexible, in the sense of [being] given the latitude to have discretion as to what are prohibited items for work,” Di Rocco says.

“For example, to have a mechanic go through a passenger screening checkpoint, and confiscate his tools that are used for his work, is not adding to or enhancing security.”

Chris Bidwell, managing director of security at ATA, agrees. “This bill is not well reasoned, nor is it risk-based.”

Bob Peterson, technical fellow at Boeing, also weighs in: “Our friends in Congress seem to think 100 percent is the answer to everything.

“If we do 100 percent employee screening, we’re highly predictable. Predictability, I think, is our enemy.”

In the meantime, the panel concludes that doing something now is better than waiting for a Congressional mandate.

“For one of the first times, this industry is trying to be proactive and put a program out there before Congress tells us what to do,” says Steve Grossman, director of aviation, Oakland International Airport.

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