Much of U.S. aviation remains on hold, awaiting direction from TSA
by John F. Infanger
The state of the industry is uncertain. The air carriers are struggling;
business aviation remains robust but waits to see if new security requirements
will stop its growth; service companies are caught in the middle while
dealing with new security requirements at commercial airports; and, general
aviation worries that the next misuse of an airplane will shut it down
entirely. Airports, meanwhile, are the center of attention along with
funding and the future of AIP. In essence, aviation has become Tentative,
Incorporated, with a future being directed by new bureaucrats who do not
know the business.
Last November, Congress created the Transportation Security Administration via the muchheralded security act that mandated that the federal government take over passenger security operations at commercial airports. Many in aviation are concerned that TSA has been given a blank sheet of paper to create any new security directives it chooses, while not consulting with the industry. It has not, however, been given a blank check, and aviation interests are worried that the Airport Improvement Program, always intended for infrastructure improvements, could become the perpetual well that feeds the security tap.
At the same time, the Federal Aviation Administration, which has relinquished its security duties to TSA as directed by Congress, is in the eyes of many losing its handle on the industry it was created to regulate.
Comments Jim Coyne, president of the National Air Transportation Association, "It’s almost as though the The state of the industry is uncertain. The air carriers are struggling; business aviation remains robust but waits to see if new security requirements will stop its growth; service companies are caught in the middle while dealing with new security requirements at commercial airports; and, general aviation worries that the next misuse of an airplane will shut it down entirely. Airports, meanwhile, are the center of attention along with funding and the future of AIP. In essence, aviation has become Tentative, Incorporated, with a future being directed by new bureaucrats who do not know the business. FAA is becoming irrelevant, with the TSA, the EPA, the IRS, and other government agencies trying to regulate aviation.
"The number one problem I see right now is that because of the security overzealousness, government can do whatever it wants without anyone doing an analysis of whether it’s justified. Government officials can bankrupt our industry."
BEHOLD THE TSA
When asked about the top concerns of airports today, Spencer Dickerson, vice president of the American Association of Airport Executives, says, "It’s TSA, TSA, TSA."
In its defense, industry reps recognize that the TSA has been given the unenviable task of ramping up from zero to 40,000 or more employees by the end of 2002, along with putting in place a system that assures a secure system. Key to the plan is the installation of baggage screening systems that manufacturers will probably not be able to build in time. As a concession to that reality, the TSA has indicated the shortterm solution will be a combination of explosives detection systems and trace detection devices.
Paula Hochstetler, president of the Airport Consultants Council, which has been heavily involved with initial meetings at TSA, explains that the decision presents a tradeoff. "If the airports have the explosives detection equipment, they need less people; with trace detection they need more people. Is there going to be adequate funding to complement the technology and the staffing?"
In fact, Congress is questioning the staffing requests of TSA. Comments ACC’s Hochstetler, "Congress believes TSA’s request for screeners is too much. TSA says it needs 65,000 employees; Congress says 45,000."
Adds Mike Boyd of the Denverbased The Boyd Group, an industry analyst firm, "Look at Eugene, OR, where they’ve had 20 employees doing this and no problems. TSA will have 70. It will take money away from infrastructure and other initiatives, and they’re not doing anything to make us any safer."
Much of industry’s frustration since the creation of TSA is that it is made up of nonaviation personnel, with an emphasis on law enforcement, and is presenting an attitude that aviation demonstrated with 9/11 that it could not handle security. That frustration was particularly evident at airports, the focal point, but there are indications that this is changing.
Explains Ian Redhead, vice president of airport facilities and services for Airports Council InternationalNorth America, "That is changing and air ports are becoming more and more involved, but there are still not enough answers being provided to airports so that we can help the TSA accomplish its task.
"They basically came in and said anybody associated with the FAA before is essentially persona non grata and they have not listened to those with industry knowledge. My personal opinion is that TSA has perhaps made their task that much harder. It’s very much driven by the law and their determination to meet the deadlines. They’ve not necessarily gone back to Congress to ask for clarification or to find out what its real intent was."
TSA Appoints Security Contractor
In what is considered a key move in implementing the new security structure at U.S. airports, the Transportation Security Administration awarded the contract to manage and schedule upgrades. Hensel Phelps Construction Company, which has been involved in the rebuilding of the Pentagon, was awarded the contract in midMay. Carter & Burgess will provide airport engineering and management support services as part of the project team.
The Hensel Phelps project team will prepare an implementation plan to upgrade security screening operations at 429 U.S. airports.
At the top of the list of everyone contacted for this article is funding. DOT Secretary Norman Mineta is seen by many as the champion of infrastructure development for the industry in recent years when capacity was the leading issue. However, his comments recently have turned to justifying the use of AIP monies for security purposes, saying that the downturn in the airline business has changed the priority. Industry officials are concerned that getting security off the AIP dole could become an insurmountable task in the years ahead after the current funding authorization ends in 2003.
Industry officials say that Congress needs to fund security for aviation separately, and also express the opinion that AIP dollars should be spent today on building the infrastructure needed to handle the pending capacity crunch that everyone expects to return within one to two years.
Comments AAAE’s Dickerson, "We have to try and keep our focus on capacity enhancement and other safety initiatives. Eventually, all the needed construction projects will be back on the front burner."
Says ACINA president David Plavin, "We should be taking advantage of the lull in congestion problems. We shouldn’t bury our heads in the sand and wait for it to kick us in the behind."
NATA’s Coyne, himself a former Congressman, adds, "The money problem is going to bring about a collosal confrontation in Congress. If Congress doesn’t pay for security, then the user community will.
"It’s interesting to see what they’re doing in Canada, where they’ve created a corporationtype group much like they did with air traffic control. The Canadian government has promised that whatever they do with security won’t come out of the airport fund."
For airports, the challenge pre9/11 was how to fund the infrastructure to meet growing demand. That concern remains, but has been compounded by the fact that new security equipment and procedures may bring about entirely new infrastructure demands, particular in terminals and parking garages.
Says Plavin, "The bottom line is that at the overwhelming bulk of airports, they can’t readily change the terminals. I foresee more integration at baggage claim; and garages will probably need to be wider.
"If I was designing an airport from scratch, I’d figure out a way to have a remote terminal for everything, maybe something akin to what they have at Tampa or Orlando."
For business and general aviation, a top concern has been the reopening of Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport to GA, which many expect to happen by June. There is a concern by some, however, that new security procedures at DCA will lead to tighter requirements at other airports.
Comments Coyne, who represents charter firms and flight training companies, among others, "I guarantee you that there are some at TSA who have that mindset. I have a feeling that a lot of people at TSA would like to just shut down general aviation. That said, I think we’ll be able to get into DCA soon."
Meanwhile, a general aviation bill to assist companies affected by 9/11 appears dead in the water, with President Bush opposing it.