Ready, Waiting

LOS ANGELES — When 2002 AAAE chair Jerry Olson passed away mid-term, it capped what was already a very trying year for airports. Yet, says Bonnie Allin, the incoming chair, with adversity came unity and initiative among other airport managers. She equates it with what has occurred with airports throughout North America since 9/11: They have responded and are ready to take their airports into a new operating environment. Problem is, the feds are still working on funding.

Allin got her start in airport management at Tucson International in 1976. In 1984, she became the manager of finance and properties at Corpus Christi International, rising to the director position. She returned as president at Tucson in 2000. She is currently directing a major reconstruction effort, and oversees Ryan Airfield as well.

During the 2003 annual convention of the American Association of Airport Executives here, Allin sat down with AIRPORT BUSINESS to discuss industry issues. Here’s an edited transcript.

AIRPORT BUSINESS: Regarding security, what type of system does Tucson currently have?

Allin: We have a modified in-line system; it’s not complete yet. It’s after ticketing; they’ve modified it to where there’s not a machine for each belt, or for each airline. They’ve built what they call doghouses, where airlines share space; on the backside are rooms with the equipment [where the sorting occurs].

AB: Regarding airports, are we at a point where all the parties pretty much know what is needed for security? Or are we still trying to figure out exactly what’s needed?

Allin: I think we all know what we need; it’s just a matter of not having the funding to do it. Getting in-line systems, or modified in-line systems, is certainly the way it needs to go. Getting the lines of people out of the unsecured lobby is very important — certainly from a customer service standpoint.

AB: When you say ‘we all know what we need,’ does that include the TSA and the federal government?

Allin: There’s a recognition that we do need these in-line systems. And now we’ve heard of the LOI [Letter of Intent] program to help fund it.

AB: Thinking of an LOI program and recalling the FAA’s experience in which the agency got a bit overextended because of LOI commitments, is there a fear that could happen with TSA’s program?

Allin: There’s certainly a fear; this is very, very expensive. They were thinking $140 million in Boston was huge [for in-line screening]; well, Seattle’s $300 million. Boston’s a drop in the bucket compared to what it’s going to take Seattle or Phoenix or some of the other cities.

That’s going to be the biggest challenge: How do we fund it? And, can we take stock and take a step back and say, Are we putting our money where it needs to be? Technology is evolving. Can we do it in a way that allows us to modify it with new technology?

AB: Security is changing the entire airport experience, from parking to design of facilities. What are your thoughts about these changes?

Allin: Well, the 300-foot rule doesn’t make sense. How many federal buildings in this country have a 300-foot rule around them?

We should be doing things that are smart, that would preclude a Ryder truck from driving up and into the front of the building. We should be looking at individual solutions based on the airport circumstances; based on the threat level, the infrastructure, and what makes sense. We should be doing that at every single facility. A blanket 300-foot rule just doesn’t make sense.

AB: How do you feel about this system of alerts we now have?

Allin: I understand the need for a uniform level of security; but it needs to broadly be defined so you can apply it to each facility according to the specific needs.

AB: One of the changes larger airports have been seeking is a more unregulated environment in which to operate. For example, perhaps not having a cap on passenger facility charges. What are your thoughts?

Allin: I think the marketplace should dictate and the local community should make the decisions about what is best for their facility. How can you run a business if your hands are tied economically where you can’t raise the revenue, and you’re being buried with unfunded regulatory mandates and no way to pay for them? And yet, you have to be self-sustaining.

It’s difficult. You’re told you can’t raise the money; there’s limits on how much you can charge, and then they turn around and say, we’re going to triple the cost of running your security and you have to pay for it.

You’re not going to have a local community say, we’re going to have a $50 PFC. First of all, your airline would pull out and second of all your passengers would refuse to pay for it.

AB: Any specifics on what you would like to see happen?

Allin: I would like to see a lot more flexibility. Let the local community decide what the PFC should be, if at all. But really, the regulations cover all areas of how we do business, from leasing land to the grant funds to what you can charge the airlines.

We obviously have to have safety and security, and there has to be a minimum standard of what they are. Does that mean you have to have seven people standing here because a regulatory agency says so, or does it mean you have to have this level of security?

AB: I understand that the airport does the fueling at Tucson International. With the financial pressures facing airports, do you see more getting into fueling?

Allin: If you don’t have the infrastructure in place, the environmental infrastructure, and the costs [ac-counted for], I would think it would be quite prohibitive to start it up.

We do the airline fueling. There’s an airline consortium that buys the fuel; we store it and pump it for them. It’s not an exclusive.

For us, it really was a customer service issue. We wanted to make sure our customers were well served. We reevaluate it, and it’s really up to the airlines if they want us to service them or to outsource. It’s something that pays for itself, but we’re not in it for the money. We have FBOs on the field that sell retail.

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