JAX - Ahead of the Pack

March 8, 2003
Having fully integrated baggage screening reflects aggressive posture

By John F. Infanger, Editorial Director

JACKSONVILLE, FL – On October 1, 2001, the Jacksonville Airport Authority performed its first act: opening for business. As a second act, it directed airport staff to come up with a comprehensive security plan in light of the 9/11 attacks. Central to that plan was an in-line, fully integrated baggage screening system, before the Transportation Security Administration was even created. The move is indicative of the aggressive approach to service and development that have kept the airport apace with local economic growth.

Both TSA and the Jacksonville Airport Authority are housed in the new administration building, which was built to make room for terminal expansion. After 9/11, expansion was put on hold; terminal space made instead for the in-line screening system.

While airports across North America struggle with movibing passengers around and past ETDs and CTX machines to ensure secure baggage, Jacksonville International Airport acts much like an airport pre-9/11 in terms of passenger movement.

It did not happen by accident. The airport solicited to become part of the TSA pilot program for baggage screening almost as soon as the new agency was formed, pushed to get its federal security director (FSD) in place quickly, and spent as much as $18 million of its own money to get to this point.

It put a terminal and concessions expansion program on hold, while also securing its three general aviation airports it oversees. A new administration building, originally needed to accommodate terminal expansion, was completed and a lease consumated with the General Services Adminis-tration to house TSA personnel. Meanwhile, space was created for the complex conveyor-driven, in-line screening system, the center of which is five Invision CTX explosives detection scanners.

The entire plan and subsequent execution are very indicative of the philosophy of the authority and airport staff, according to John C. Clark III, A.A.E., executive director, who had previously focused heavily on how to keep the airport in step with the expanding Jacksonville economic base and on air service development.

Explains Clark, "From a policy standpoint, we believed it was necessary to put in this new foundation of security. Yes, we had to give up some cash to do that; but if you have people in this community who believe the airport environment is not safe, or that we’re not taking the appropriate action, we’re going to lose the revenue because our market base is going to go away.

TSA federal security director; and John C. Clark III, A.A.E., JAX executive director.

"If we don’t do it, we’re not going to be able to effectively do our business. Our business is to make sure the people in this community have access to the national transportation system. And we are 60 percent-plus business travel at this airport, so efficiency and speed are important to our business."

Paul Hackenberry, the federal security director who came here in July, 2002, had been working at the federal law enforcement training center in Georgia, commuting from his residence in Jacksonville. He had previously spent 28 years in the Secret Service, including Presidential detail. He left his Georgia position on a Saturday, he relates, and started the next day at Jacksonville International.

Recalls Hackenberry, "I’m the fortunate recipient of a lot of forward thinking, progressive thinking, before I walked in the door.

"The pilot [program] status was a reflection of the investment officials here were willing to make. We [TSA] were the benefactor; we just came in and integrated our CTX machines into their system."


The City of Jacksonville, located in Northeast Florida not far from the Georgia border, had been in the midst of major economic expansion throughout the 1990s. A half-cent sales tax drives infrastructure development, and the city is home to the PGA and several major corporations. It will host the Superbowl in 2005.

Jacksonville’s in-line conveyor system, provided by FKI Logistex, feeds five Invision CTX explosives detection machines, and then sorts baggage to airline handling areas, or on for hands-on inspection by TSA screeners. TSA officials continually monitor the system via a sophisticated computer network.

Throughout the local economic expansion, the airport served as a cornerstone. In fact, the independent airport authority was created to allow it to be more focused on meeting the needs of the community. Prior to 2001, it had been included with maritime activities under the Jacksonville Port Authority.

According to executive director Clark, as the airport looked to meet the growing needs of the community it reached out to other airports for examples of success, most notably ones in Europe that were becoming more entrepreneurial while also being much further ahead on screening passengers and baggage.

Says Clark, "Europe has been doing this for about ten years, so part of our plan was to go talk to the people in Europe. Prior to 9/11, several of our people had gone to airports around the world to look at baggage systems because we were going through the terminal expansion.

"So, we sent folks to Europe to look at it more closely. We have had a relationship with the people at Frank-furt through an exchange program.

"If you did a comparison between U.S. and European airports, typically over the past ten years they’ve become much more entrepreneurial in the sense that there’s private dollars being invested. So, not only from a security standpoint but just from a business model, we’ve been looking at some of the things they’ve been doing. They’ve sent people here and we’ve sent our folks there for periods for four to five weeks."

It was that preparation, he relates, that led to planning for an in-line screening system almost immediately. In Europe, such systems are common. From there it was a matter of finding the space, the equipment, and the money. JAX officials tapped their capital fund, money that had been targeted for the terminal.

"A couple of years ago, we had cash reserves of about $60 million; today, we have less than $20 million," says Clark.

"I think a reason we were selected by TSA for the pilot program was because early on we had put some of our own dollars into it. The other part is we had a lot of Congressional and community support to make it happen." He adds that being in synch with the new FSD when he arrived was essential as well.

Comments TSA’s Hackenberry, "I certainly understand and appreciate that the airport is a business, and that my job is to provide security around that business. Not slow down the business, not disrupt the business; if I were to do that there would be no need for security at the airport."