A Change in Priorities

March 8, 2002


UT short course relates planning takes a back seat to securityby John Boyce
AUSTIN, 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.


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."


The FAA and the new Transpor-tation Security Administration created under the December Aviation and Transportation Security Act, according to Cox, "are absolutely convinced, based on the best intelligence they have, that there is a threat against airport terminals."

In response, the FAA promulgated a directive that could change in the future - the rule that forces airports to keep parked vehicles at least 300 feet from the terminal. Although airports have to do a bomb blast effects analysis at their facilities, Sutton says that there is no way to protect against a bomb the size of the one used in the Oklahoma City bombing.

Cox responds by raising the possibility of remote parking and even remote check-in. "I'll make a prediction," he says, "if we have an event you could be parking in the next county." We're facing the possibility of remote check-in to keep vehicles completely away from the terminal, he concludes.

Cox suggests that airports have to do a threat assessment before they can even think about working on design "or do anything in terms of airport security systems.... What does the airport currently have? What systems are in place? What can we keep? What has to be changed? What has to be replaced? Those kinds of things."

Explaining further, Cox says, "When you get into design and where you're going to put things like EDS machines ... take a look at what the impact is, not only on day to day security but any contingencies that may come along."

Although the federal government has assumed overall responsibility for passenger and baggage screening, without giving details Cox suggests that airlines and airports will have some responsibility in the process. He also thinks that cargo operations at airports will have to be controlled in much the same way as security operations on the passenger side.

He further suggests that people involved in airport planning and design obtain a copy of a new publication put out recently by the FAA entitled, "Recommended Security Guide-lines for Airport Planning Design and Construction." Explains Cox, "You'll find it's a primer. It doesn't necessarily tell you how to do A,B,C, and D. It lists the things you should take into consideration dealing with airport security. It's brand-new. It's not a regulation, so it can change at any time. It has four major parts and more important, a checklist at the end of each section."


Contributing editor John Boyce shares some of the sound bites from the recent planning session.

AUSTIN - Following are highlights from the Airport Planning short course held in February at the University of Texas Center for Transportation Research. Members of the faculty included Michael McNerney, George Vittas and Merrill Goodwyn, aviation consultants at DMJM in Ft. Worth; 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 Intern-ational Airport (ABIA); and Ken Cox, a security consultant with Counter Technology in Austin.

Excerpts include ...

  • This is an important year because the airport and highway trust funds are due to be reauthorized. It is rare when they come about in the same year and the highway people lobby much harder than aviation people. — McNerney
  • Activity forecasting is an absolute necessity, but one can spend too much time and money on it. The best thing to do is make forecasting a continuous process; it has to be a dynamic.— Goodwyn
  • The narrative of a master plan should be in a good summary format for decisionmakers. The only way one can do it is to know what the decisionmakers' concerns are. Provide them with the facts and let them decide. Try not to quantify. — Goodwyn
  • There are a variety of techniques for forecasting. They'll all work. They're all driven by the quality and quantity of the data. At the end, step back and see if it really makes sense; is it logical and reasonable. Bring in outside knowledgeable people and see if they think it makes sense. — Walton
  • In aviation activity forecasting you're going to be wrong. Don't take it personally. It's an art, not a science. — Walton
  • In planning and development be bold, achieve accuracy, practice practicality, and reach consensus. If you do that you will succeed no matter what your endeavor. — Vittas
  • In environmental planning, involve everybody: FAA, the community, all the stakeholders. Define the projects so that the analysis covers everything, including all reasonable alternatives. This is increasingly important in legal challenges. Discard alternatives based on reasonableness. — Griffin

Geographical Information Systems can be employed in everything at the airport. They can be used in planning of the environment, airport business management, and pavement and infrastructure management. An integrated use of GIS should be set up so that everybody can use it. Each department has its own boundaries but you can share. It's the wave of the future. - McNerney


The University of Texas has ongoing courses at its Center for Transportation Research, including:

  • Airport Engineering and Management, April
  • Airport Planning, September
  • Airport Pavements, Dates to be Determined
  • For information, contact Jamie Puryear at (512) 232-5550.