Under Admiral Loy, the agency is paying more heed to airports
WESLEY CHAPEL, FL – Indications from Congress and the Transportation Security Administration are that as many as 40 airports could get waivers from the 100 percent baggage screening requirement at year’s end. At the same time, the TSA is expressing a more conciliatory tone toward the people who run U.S. airports. Such moves helped set the tone for the annual gathering of airport managers near Tampa in late September.
The F. Russell Hoyt National Airports Conference, put on by the American Association of Airport Executives (AAAE), saw a record number of attendees this year, as managers continue to seek answers to the security challenges related to 9/11. Among the hottest issues: how 100 percent baggage screening will be achieved; related TSA space requirements; funding; and the role that local law enforcement officers (LEOs) will play. Many AAAE members in attendance were also seeking clearer direction from TSA regarding potential security requirements for general aviation airports, which many expect once the screening mandates for airline passengers and baggage are accomplished.
The Changing Concessions Environment
Meeting the concessions needs of the traveling public is a changing dynamic, according to speakers at this year’s NAC, marked by changing demands and increased costs.
Lou Bottino, senior vice president of The Paradies Shops, says sales are rebounding faster than airline passenger counts, and that the increased dwell times due to security are bringing about a "merchandise shift" that has seen his news/convenience stores experience a 13 percent increase in sales.
"Airside (sales) is much, much stronger than landside," says Bottino, who relates that his company recorded a 3 percent increase in sales for the fiscal year ending in June, despite the negative impact of 9/11.
Bottino says that airports need to make sure their retailers have adequate space to accommodate the merchandise shift that is occurring, and also need to be aware of higher costs associated with security. One example: retailers often need an extra employee for inventory dropoffs so that one person can stay with the truck outside the terminal.
Diane Pryor-Vercelli, senior director of properties and contracts administration for the Hillsbor-ough County Aviation Authority, which operates Tampa Interna-tional, says there’s a growing demand by passengers for quiet rooms, such as an airport chapel. In October, Tampa expects to open a new child play area.
Pryor-Vercelli says airports need to look at ways they can help their tenants meet customer service needs, such as putting together discount packages and offering coupons. Concessionaires, she says, should look at focusing on employee training and incentive programs that will help boost sales.
She also says there’s a need for airports to provide a mechanism, such a prepaid envelope at a minimal cost to passengers, that allows items (nail clippers, etc.) confiscated by TSA to be mailed home with little difficulty.
Kelly Johnson, A.A.E., director for the Northwest Arkansas Regional Airport Authority, perhaps reflected the sentiment of many at the opening session with her comment, "They tell me this is Phase 1; I can’t wait for Phase 2 when we step back and do it right." A top concern at her facility, she says, is that TSA via its contractor layed out the security equipment plan for her lobby without consulting the airport or tenant airlines. However, she says the communication is improving now that the airport’s federal security director (FSD) has been put in place.
Meanwhile, TSA Under Secre-taries Tom Blank and Michael Robinson reflected the changing posture of the TSA under the direction of new Under Secretary James Loy.
"TSA has learned the absolute criticality of working with our stakeholders," Blank told attendees, adding that "it’s important to recognize that we are in a partnership, whether we like it or not."
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