A Change in Priorities

A CHANGE IN PRIORITIES UT short course relates planning takes a back seat to security by John Boyce AUSTIN, TX - Issues facing airports haven't changed because of the September terrorist attacks, it's just that the issue of security...


A CHANGE IN PRIORITIES

UT short course relates planning takes a back seat to security
by John Boyce

A change in prioritiesAUSTIN, TX - Issues facing airports haven't changed because of the September terrorist attacks, it's just that the issue of security impacts each of the other issues in a much more profound way than ever before.

"Security impacts everything," says Dr. Michael T. McNerney, a faculty member of the Airport Planning short course held at the University of Texas Center for Transportation Research in February. "Everything: baggage screening, biometric data trading, terminal redesign, increased cost, loss of revenues for airports, impact on travel demand."

McNerney, who recently left his post as director of UT's Aviation Research center to work in Ft. Worth with DMJM Aviation, an aviation consulting firm, went on to outline the major issues facing aviation and being impacted by security concerns. They include capacity and delay, environmental concerns, new and bigger aircraft, the burgeoning regional jet fleet, and technology of all kinds.

Perhaps the most troubling issue being affected by security, at least in the near term, is federal funding. McNerney fears that despite assurances from FAA to the contrary, security will absorb monies that would and could be used for other airport projects.

"The FAA says that security will not affect the AIP funding of other things at airports," he says, "but I will believe it when I see it." He went on to say that he was afraid that funding for AIP projects will be reduced in favor of funding for security. "Airports are using their AIP entitlement funds for security [now]," he says. "We'll get more money for security and I think that now that security screening is being paid for not by the airlines but by the federal government, that we'll see changes in that [use of AIP funds for security]."

McNerney was one of eight faculty members at the three-day course attended by airport consultants and executives. Other faculty members: DMJM consultants George Vittas and Merrill Goodwyn; Johnny McKnight, an aviation architect at HKS Architects in Dallas; William Griffin, an associate with PBS&J consultants in Austin; Dr. Michael Walton, professor of civil engineering at UT; Tamara Moore, airport planner at Austin-Bergstrom International Airport (ABIA); and Ken Cox, a security consultant with Counter Technology in Austin.

WHAT SHOULD BE DONE

While the short course addressed all facets of planning from master planning to airside and landslide planning to environmental planning to, indeed, security planning, it was presented in terms of what should be done rather than in terms of what presently could be done. For instance, nobody is sure how airports are going to accommodate the EDS (Explosives Detection System) equipment mandated for screening baggage. The units have been described as the size of a large SUV and ABIA, for example, needs to accommodate 17 of them. Should they be in the terminal? Outside? At a remote location?

Planning and building are going on at airports, but the airports are, as one course participant put it, operating with "incomplete information." Nobody knows for sure how Part 107, the federal airport security regulation, will look until at least April and there is speculation that it will change even further after that, say participants.

The FAA has been working on revising Part 107 almost on an ongoing basis since 1985. The revised rule was in place before September with implementation set for November. After 9/11, according to security consultant Cox, the FAA didn't know what to do so it allowed the revised rule to go into effect but then immediately set about amending it. Now, the re-revised rule is set for publication in April.

The uncertainty catches in the middle airports under construction or undergoing improvement, particularly those with new or improved terminals. John Sutton, a participant in the short course, is the airport project manager for a new airport being built in Killeen, TX, some 70 miles northwest of Austin.

"We're being forced to get this terminal up and start operations," he says, "and we feel we have incomplete information. The nightmare is that we have already made a decision about what we're going to do with this thing, but what happens six months down the road when I have the deal up and they [federal authorities] come back and say, 'Here's what we're going to do; here's the new directive'? We don't know what to think."

Further complicating the situation, Cox says, is the fact that "Nobody right now can explain what the role of the FAA will be in terms of airport security, if they have a role at all. We're still waiting for the hammer to fall. Right now you're kind of caught in the middle."

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