In-Line, Online At DFW

Sept. 6, 2006
As airports continue to grapple with in-line installations, DFW serves as one example of the state of the art.

The recent thwarting of planned attacks on U.S. and British airliners was the good news. For airports, the aftermath is what they live, and once again passenger movement and security screening are presented new challenges. DFW International Airport may be today the most prepared facility, at least in the U.S., with the installation of a hub-wide in-line baggage screening capability, particularly in light of the reactionary mode that is our security policy to date. DFW is in the final stage of implementation of its $174 million automated screening system, with Terminal A now underway. As airports continue to grapple with in-line installations, DFW serves as one example of the state of the art.

Explains James M. Crites, the DFW executive vice president of operations, "TSA was still learning, as we were, about all the challenges of in-line baggage screening. So, some of the lessons learned came in the form of detailed questions that led to establishing protocols and procedures. It was a learn as you go proposition. I think TSA learned from that and now understands the process completely for the next generation of system installations.

"The other challenge is, you have existing systems that are old and have differences in terms of their capabilities. As we went to integrate these new mainline diversion points, we found that we needed, in some cases, to upgrade the existing control mechanisms of the existing handling systems, as well as replace worn out components, or different types of components, to make sure interfaces went well."

The first thing DFW needed, of course, was funding for the in-line system - still a major obstacle for a majority of U.S. airports. When 9/11 occurred, DFW officials were already in the planning stages for an in-line system, spurred by the development of its new international Terminal D, opened in 2005. After 9/11, FAA continued to award Airport Improvement Program dollars for security for one year. The result: DFW garnered some $28 million for its system from FAA, along with a letter of intent for the reimbursement of $104.4 million from the Transportation Security Administration.

Increasing Demand

The alleged terrorist attack in August once again highlighted for airports how quickly demands can change. Overnight, systems were called on to screen as many as 50 percent more bags as carry-ons became severely restricted.

In light of recent events, says Crites, "Forecasting the volume of demand on these systems is pretty critical. The other thing is, system availability. You often hear about the reliability of a system, meaning how long does it operate until it fails? But the real parameter of success is system availability. What that means is, look at the percentage of time that the system is available to process bags. When a system does go down, how fast can you get it back up and operating? That's a very important parameter to consider in the design. When one of these systems goes down it can have an adverse effect on how many bags connect."

That, he says, equates to costs to the airlines if delays ensue. Crites says airlines estimate it costs $125 per misconnected bag. System redundancy is vital to availability, says Crites. "You want to make sure you have a sufficient number of machines to have a sufficient redundancy, to handle demand forecasted over natural growth," explains Crites. "This is one of the points of discussion between airports and TSA - funding that redundancy. It's an ongoing battle, who pays for it."

At DFW, some 54 CTX9000 from General Electric drive the in-line system. Passenger and baggage flows were simulated by Dallas-based TransSolutions, while one design firm, Cage, was hired for the systems' design. For actual installation, DFW sought to expedite the process by hiring three firms - Lockheed-Martin, Vanderlande Industries, and Siemens - which worked concurrently.

Says Crites, "We used Trans-Solutions to do baggage system simulation studies; once again, as nuances to different designs were proposed, we could understand those nuances using a computer-based simulation, and understand cause and effect.

"We liked the idea of having different sets of eyes out there and sharing ideas across teams through a central design and simulation exercise. That way, we could get the best leverage off of those ideas."

After funding, the single biggest challenge when installing an in-line baggage screening system, says Crites, may be its integration. Early on when DFW officials toured other airports to see their in-line systems, he says, it was the need for a central monitoring room that became most evident. DFW, like most airports, was not set up to integrate the systems it had in place.

The end result for DFW is one central monitoring room for the hub's entire integrated system. It used as a primary model a facility San Francisco International had just installed for its new international terminal. "Remember, this was all new to TSA," recalls Crites. "They were not certain they could do this yet [on a hub-wide basis].

"SFO was able to network on the order of six machines. The aspect of going out and trying to network 54 machines, the benefits could be huge. You would use just a fraction of the labor. We started designing the room; working with the EDS supplier to develop the software capability to send all these images to one location; working with TSA to ensure that the protocols would be there so they could make use of this room. It's working out very well. The manpower savings could be huge."

As TSA and other airports look for future installations of in-line systems, Crites sees systems integration as bringing the greatest benefits. "The idea of remote monitoring systems, in a real--time way, will enable them to be more creative in the future when implementing an in-line solution at airports," he says. "It can save even more money, and afford greater flexibility."