The PHX Files - A AAAE Report
Convention highlights; one on one with Jim Morasch
By John F. Infanger, editorial director, & Monica L. Rausch, Associate Editor
PHOENIX — Some 2,300 attendees and 206 exhibiting companies gathered here in May for the American Association of Airport Executives' 71st Annual Conference and Exhibition. A dynamic event, it focused on such topics as security, fixing the Y2K computer glitch, FAA updates on runway incursions and Free Flight, and the introduction of a new FAR Part 139 for airport certification. Here are some highlights.
NPRM Update: Baggage Screening
The comment period on a notice of proposed rulemaking involving the screening of checked baggage for explosives will be extended to the end of August, according to Cathal "Irish" Flynn, associate administrator for FAA's civil aviation security. Although the NPRM will affect air carriers, airports play a role in the positioning of equipment when modifying or building new terminals, says Flynn.
FAA is also currently working on developing and deploying methods to check the performance of baggage screening equipment, so that the agency may eventually set standards by which manufacturers of equipment can be certified.
"We are working as closely as we possibly can with the airport and air carrier community and also with the industry to try to support a technical base in improvement in security," says Flynn.
The agency is also visiting numerous airports to test controlled access security, following up on testing that was done by DOT's Office of Inspector General to see if improvements have been made. He says preliminary results show that airport and air carrier access control has improved, but during the testing, agency inspectors are still slipping through security in some areas and "getting aboard far too many aircraft." Flynn stresses the need to guard the aircraft, especially where baggage is loaded.
Runway incursions; free flight
FAA will be focusing on its safety agenda and increasing the air traffic system efficiency this year, according to Monte Belger, acting deputy administrator for FAA. On the safety side, addressing runway incursions is currently a top priority.
Says Belger, "We are very, very concerned about the increase in the number of runway incursions and alsoÉthe types of runway incursions that are occurring in the system. Some of them are, quite frankly, somewhat troubling in terms of why they occurred and how they could have been prevented. We want to stop this runway incursion problem before there is a major accident."
Runway incursion action teams are tasked to visit 20 airports in the U.S. and have visited ten so far, says Belger. "They are looking at some specific actions that can be taken at that specific airport to address the runway incursion problem. We know this is not an issue where one size fits all. It's got to be done somewhat on a local basis."
FAA is also looking to improve efficiency in the system through the implementation of the first phase of Free Flight, says Becker. He discussed several new air traffic control "tools" which are part of the Free Flight program, including a user request evaluation tool, which allows the controller to look ahead and predict a potential safety conflict beyond his or her sector when granting a request by a pilot. "Before, a controller would have been working in his or her small sector and making a decision based on only what he or she saw in his or her sector of responsibility."
"United Airlines has already told us that at San Francisco some of the tools we put in place there have already saved them $19 million in the past year," says Belger.
One area where industry and FAA work together for efficiency, notes Belger, is the contract tower program. "It is a program which is proven to be cost effectiveÉand stood the test of review," he notes. By October, Belger expects that the agency will complete contracting out services on all Level One VFR towers. FAA will continue to bring others into the program.
"There's one thing that's absolutely, perfectly, totally clear to me," Belger concluded. "When industry is together on issues and can go to the Congress with some uniformity and some similarity in goals and objectives, things get funded. When we don't go to the Congress together, they don't get funded, generally ..."
A new FAR 139 on the horizon
Commuter airport managers eager to see FAA's rewrite of FAR Part 139 won't have much longer to wait, according to David Bennett, director of airport safety and standards for FAA. The NPRM for Part 139 will be out sometime in October and will include the certification of airports receiving service by scheduled carriers using aircraft holding 10 to 30 seats.
Bennett says a draft of the regulation is currently circulating internally at FAA for final approvals. "We're really going to make a priority of getting it out this year," he notes.
When addressing the new certification for commuter airports, Bennett says FAA is examining all of the components of Part 139 to see which should apply to these airports. Bennett says FAA realizes the biggest issue is Aircraft Rescue and Firefighting (ARFF) regulations and whether or not commuter airports will be held to the same ARFF standards as those airports being served by larger aircraft. The rulemaking advisory committee, made up of various industry representatives, had no consensus on the issue, he notes.
Groups seek to redefine ARFF
FAA is reviewing a report released by the Coalition for Airport and Airplane Passenger Safety (CAAP), a grouping of several unions including the National Fire Protection Association, the Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA), and the National Air Traffic Controllers Association (NATCA). The report argues that ARFF services at U.S. airports are not at the levels they should be and lists several recommendations for restructuring and boosting ARFF capabilities.
"They are urging a number of recommendations that would probably double the size of an ARFF department," notes Bennett. "(The report) recommends that we change the mission of ARFF departments, not just to suppress the fire around the aircraft, but to add a requirement that ARFF departments have the capability to rescue people inside, and (have) all of the equipment and additional staffing that that would require, and also to have a structural firefighting capability, which you might have but are not required to have. I'm not even sure we (FAA) could require you to have it ... clearly it would cost more than what's there now."
FAA's office of accident investigation is currently checking data cited in the report, says Bennett, "We are going to look at accident history and how many happened on and around airports, (and) see how many of those were survivable kinds of accidents, and of those, how many might have been affected by the kinds of things that are recommended.
"I would be surprised if it's very many," says Bennett. FAA would consider the ratio of costs to benefits before boosting ARFF requirements, he says, and any new regulations that would come out of that report would go through the normal rulemaking process, he adds. "We're not going to do anything immediately."
Looking for a y2k benchmark? Here's O'Hare, Midway
John Becker, assistant commissioner of security for the Chicago Aviation Department, outlined the strategy he has taken to eliminate affects of the Y2K computer glitch at Chicago O'Hare International and Midway Airports. The plan involved inventory, assessment, remediation, and testing of four different groups of systems, according to Becker:
• Information technology, or IT, systems: access control, ID badging, 911 computer-aided dispatch, finance and work management systems. Becker says the department is in the process of testing the work management systems. The rest are now compliant.
• Desktop systems: PCs, servers, and a large fiberoptic network. Inventory on the network was taken in early 1998, says Becker. He reports that the department is making good progess here and is on track in efforts to make systems compliant.
• The supply chain: suppliers and their systems that might be integrated with the airports. Becker says checking compliancy here was handled mainly by a law firm. "That had to do with due diligence and liability: What happens when the time comes, and everything we do is right, and everything works, but we can't get certain commodities (like) road salt, toilet paper?" The department sent out surveys to some 1200 vendors, 300 of those being aviation-specific, says Becker. All suppliers listed as critical have come back compliant, says Becker. Even so, the aviation department has contingency plans for most critical suppliers.
• Embedded systems: systems with date-sensitive microchips. This area was a concern for Becker because the department got a late start in addressing it, he says. Not until early 1998 did the department discover that embedded systems would be a problem. Price Waterhouse did the inventory of both airports' systems. By the first of this month, mission critical systems should be compliant, says Becker. The department's biggest concern now is contingency planning, says Becker. He has tasked safety and security consultants to write up contingency plans. "What's fortunate for us is O'Hare's been working on emergency plans for 30 years. We have them in place for everything," says Becker. These plans will be modified slightly to fit emergencies that might surround Y2K difficulties.
The department is also working with labor unions to make sure extra staffing levels on the night of December 31 won't conflict with contracts.
As an end result, the department plans to produce a packet of information for each of the 33 systems found at the airports. These packets will include a description of the system, strategy plans used to fix and test it, results of testing, compliancy notes and letters received from manufacturers, plus emergency numbers.
So far, the aviation department has spent about $8 million on its Y2K program, with a big chunk of that going to fix IT systems ($3 million) and embedded systems ($1.8 million). Becker expects the final tab to run some $9 million. "The most important part of our plan has been — and if you don't have this by now it's not going to help you — executive support," he says..
Mary Rose Loney, the commissioner of the airports, Becker says, "is looking at this as any other emergencyÉanything that would normally constitute an emergency at the airport; she is considering Y2K to be the same, and she's willing to take any and all steps to make sure that we are complaint.
"We're on schedule; we're very confident in where we are," he adds.