REGAINING A HANDLE
Security is pervasive as airports prepare to meet at AAAE in Dallas
By John Boyce, Contributing Editor
FINDING WAYS TO AVERT CONGESTION
After a couple of aborted attempts to alleviate congestion at the security checkpoints at Ft. Lauderdale/Hollywood International Airport, aviation director Bill Sherry says he and his staff hit on the idea of allowing people through security based on their boarding times.
Sherry says he tried what he called a "deli" system in which passengers pull a number and when that number was scrolled across a display over security checkpoints and/or announced over the PA system, they could go through security screening. He says it didn't work for a number of reasons.
Then he tried a tagging system in which each passenger is assigned a ticket with a letter on it. When that letter was scrolled/announced, the passenger could then go through screening. That, he says, didn't work for a number of reasons.
"Then we finally decided that we would post boarding times" on a scrolling display and over the PA, Sherry says. "When you come to the airport you have a departure time so if you're going through security checkpoint in Concourse F you'll see that we're only processing passengers with boarding times from X to Y. If you're in that group you can proceed through the security checkpoint. In you're not in that group, you're free to roam around the terminal. That has been a very effective program for us and that reduced our security lines from an hour to an hour and a half down to the maximum we have now is 15 minutes."
In May, airport managers and others will convene at the annual convention and trade show of the American Association of Airport Executives. At the forefront of the group's discussions will be how changing security requirements have put much of the industry decisionmaking on hold. Recently, contributing editor John Boyce canvassed airport directors from around the U.S. to get their insights into the changing airport environment.
All roads lead to security. No matter where you look on the aviation landscape, you will find activity - or at least talk - of airport security. Other issues are out there but almost in a state of dormancy while the industry wrestles with the uncertainty of what to do about security and the direction it will take according to federal mandates.
Capacity issues? Always important but temporarily overshadowed. Environmental issues? Always pressing but currently eclipsed. Infrastructure development? Needed but slowed or delayed. Funding? Definitely in question. Air service? For some airports still a front burner issue, but overall it waits. That is not to say that these other issues are not on the minds of airport executives. They are; but, at least for the near term, they all relate to security and will until the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) tells airports what they are expected to do to meet legislative mandates for making their facilities secure.
That is also not to say that airport executives are doing nothing. They are; it's all just largely tentative without firm direction from the TSA.
"The frustration (is) that it's extremely clear to myself and a lot of other people," says John Anderson, director at Boise (ID) Airport, "that TSA doesn't have a mission statement and they think they're in the law enforcement business. They don't understand that they're in the security business."
The enormity of September 11 rocked the aviation industry back on to its heels. But despite the turmoil and uncertainty, it has slowly shown a remarkable resiliency that has seen dipping revenues begin to rebound, passenger numbers slowly climb, congestion at checkpoints slowly thin, and corporate and general aviation begin to boom.
In a perverse twist, 9/11 has acted as a stimulus to airport executives. They are innovating, questioning accepted methods, looking into new ways to get things done. They are creating.
At times, one security checkpoint at D/FW Airport may become choked with passengers even as checkpoints a short walk away stand completely empty.