Redefining Level of Service

Prior to 9/11, FAA and lead consultants were examining how to develop new level of service standards for airports and their customers. The initiative is getting back on track. Here's an update.

RENO -- At this year's Airport Planning, Design & Construction Symposium held here this spring, the key catch-phrase was sustainability - building facilities and putting process in place that make what we have sustainable in the long term. At the same time, it calls for designing facilities and creating processes that are more cost-effective in the long run while also providing more efficient, more customer oriented buildings and processes. For some, a central component for creating the sustainable airport environment requires defining level of service (LOS) standards.

Just prior to the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, the Federal Aviation Administration and a core group of lead consultants were taking on the initiative to more clearly define level of service standards for airports. The primary driver at that time was the capacity issue and the constraints that dramatic increases in air service were having on the airport and aviation system.

The project was spearheaded by Zale Anis of The Volpe Center, a think tank within the Department of Transportation that performs studies for DOT and other governmental agencies. Areas of focus include safety, mobility, global connectivity, environmental stewardship, and organizational excellence, according to The Volpe Center website (

Recalls Eric Miller, vice president with TransSolutions, a Ft. Worth-based consulting firm involved with the pre-9/11 initiative, "They were collecting a series of white papers from industry experts on various topics and covered things like customer service. The idea was to then put these white papers into a reference document.

"The initiative called for going out and researching the existing level of service. They were actually taking photographs and videos in areas like baggage claim and trying to redefine what level of service meant. And they're still trying to redefine it."

According to Gloria Bender, managing principal of TransSolutions, the level of service initiative is again gaining momentum now that the post-9/11 security rush has calmed. Much of what has been gathered to date, she says, is expected to be included in the revised FAA Advisory Circular 150/5360-13 Planning and Design Guidelines for Airport Terminal Facilities.

The role and impact of TSA

Bender explains that the concept of level of service is not a new one, and in fact has been around since the 1970s and has been incorporated in guidance documents for highways as well as airports. She cites the book Pedestrian Planning and Design [revised 1987, Elevator World, Inc., Educational Services Division, Mobile, AL] by John J. Fruin, Ph.D., as one of the original drivers of the concept.

While capacity concerns were the initial driver for the current LOS initiative, the post-9/11 focus on security and the associated constraints put on terminal buildings in the aftermath have broadened the scope and brought into play another governmental agency, the Transportation Security Administration. It has made the need for new LOS standards even more imperative, says Bender.

"We've got the situation with the TSA in which there is no level of service," she says. "Each city I've gone to, I heard a different metric about what's the metric for success. I really believe we need to have a common metric for what is a good system. And that's what we need to be designing to."

Echoes Miller, "TSA has no standards for level of service. Somebody asked Tom Blank (associate administrator / chief support systems officer, TSA) at a conference, 'What are you doing regarding standardization, kind of meaning how are you ensuring that we have some common level of service?' And he started talking about eliminating overtime.

"They're looking at it in terms of what is their staffing. They weren't focused on the customer perspective, which is how we're always looking at it, from the airport's perspective, from the air carrier's perspective, from the passenger's perspective."

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