Yet another flight with U.S. ties has been given “special treatment” today–this time it was a Northwest Airlines plane leaving from Amsterdam and landing in Mumbai. The flight was sent back to Schiphol airport with military escort, and several passengers were removed for questioning.
With security levels elevated indefinitely, facility professionals are rethinking their efforts to design and build airports that can be both flexible and profitable under current–and future–conditions. On April 16, NPR’s Morning Edition featured a story that examined how some fms are coping while others struggle.
Adam Davidson reports on how the design of an airport can make a huge difference in airport security. Here are some of the highlights:
Despite the increased alert and the focus on liquids, Indianapolis’s airport was able to solve problems quickly, says John Kish, a manager there. “We ended up needing to buy a bunch of tables so people could repack without laying everything on the floor, and then we added a number of trash cans designed to hold liquids. Things worked remarkably well.”
Kish says there is one big word these days in airport management–flexibility. Indianapolis airport is built in such a way that it is easy to layout some tables and trashcans and completely rearrange the security area.
Not all airports are like that. For example, parts of Reagan National in Washington, DC have narrow, fixed entrance ways to the terminals, which means that security is almost always overcrowded because there’s not enough space to accommodate all of the post 9/11 equipment.
Indianapolis airport started preparing for greater flexibility right after the World Trade Center was attacked. “It was October of 2001, right after 9/11,” says Kish.
Architect Pat Askew is leading the design team for Indianapolis’s new terminal. He’s with the firm HOK, and he says since 9/11, airport design has one primary aim–to accommodate whatever security changes that might come up in the next few years and decades. “It really has to do with making sure that there are not permanent, immovable objects in your way, short of columns and roofs,” he says.
Askew put the plumbing under the floor and not through walls, so that bathrooms could be moved quickly. He didn’t use any internal walls to bear the weight of the building, so that all corridors and walls could be quickly and easily moved around. If an airport is a big, empty space, it’s easy to respond to sudden rules changes, such as the one having to do with liquids on a plane.
And in the past five years, there has been a never ending series of changes to how airports are used. Security screening takes up a lot more space. Since people can’t pick up arriving passengers at the gate, there are now a lot more people waiting around in public areas outside of security.
Now all of this would be pretty easy to accommodate at almost any airport if it weren’t for one other thing–the need for retail and restaurant space. Dick Markey of Airports International says, “The airport needs to get the revenue to run the facility, and if your sales of duty free go down, then you’re going to adjust some of your other rates to get the amount of revenue you need to run the facility.”
Since 9/11, many airports have actually made a lot more money, because people come early for their flights and have nothing to do, so they spend. But as security rules evolve, Markey says, the more physically inflexible airports may be forced to eliminate profit making retail space to accommodate growing security areas. And the less the airport makes on retail, the more it will make on other services.
“You may pay more for your ticket, because the airport has to raise the rent it charges to the airlines to offset the revenue that they used to get from duty free. Or you may end up paying more for a rental car, because the concession fee changes on the rental car’s arrangement with the airport. The money is going to come out of the passenger, one way or another,” Markey says.
With the changes to carryon liquids rules, some airports may become less profitable and more crowded, but, Markey says, airports designed with some flexibility in mind will probably do just fine, no matter what the new rules are.