U.S. airports are finished with last year’s Transportation Security Administration deadline to install baggage screening systems and now are pressing designers, contractors and vendors to take those systems in-line. That means getting bulky explosion-detection machines out of lobbies, installing belts that take bags to discreet screening locations and upgrading to the newest, most sophisticated detection machines.

"Airports are trying to get to the long-term solution, getting that equipment fully integrated into mechanical conveyor systems within the terminal," says Mike Steer, air transportation director in the Hunt Valley, Md., office of URS Corp. "That’s the next wave of improvements."

"Over the next four to 10 years, technology will be incorporated into new designs," says David Yeamans, aviation group general manager for Burns & McDonnell, Kansas City, Mo. "The philosophy used to be to have passengers know [security components] are there–to flaunt the technology. Now, the architecture will be built to hide that."

B&M’s work on Philadelphia’s $600-million terminal expansion included $40 million in redesign to put in 13 in-line machines, Yeamans says. New CTX 9000 machines can handle almost 200 bags an hour. All 13 will come on line by next year to create a redundant system.


At Dallas-Forth Worth airport, work is progressing on what officials say is the nation’s first fully automated in-line system where all checked bags are transferred seamlessly from curbside or counter to the aircraft. The $174-million system is 75% funded by TSA and 25% by passenger facility charges, with the airport authority selling bonds to advance the job.

Each of DFW’s five terminals will have at least three scanning rooms and one resolution room, all beneath the terminal floor. "We have to shoehorn two miles worth of conveyor belt into a congested terminal," says Ivan Nicodemus, senior project manager for New York City-based PB Aviation, which with Fort Worth-based Carter & Burgess is the system’s designer. "We had 20,000 sq ft of new building construction in Terminals B and E. We were fortunate in Terminal C that a recent renovation left a large area available."

NEXT GENERATION Newest models of explosion-detection screeners have a higher accuracy rate than before.

DFW studied test cases at San Francisco, Jacksonville and Boston airports and used San Francisco as a model for full deployment, Nicodemus says. Some 60 explosion-detection units, 13,500 ft of new conveyor belt and 4,500 sq ft of new construction is required. Plus, "we’re trying to put $250 million in retrofit construction inside the terminals, where they’re also building an [$872-million] people mover and a new terminal," adds Nicodemus.

Only 15 operators will be needed to inspect 50,000 daily bags once the system begins operating in mid-2004, says Gene Barry, C&B project manager. DFW estimates it would have spent up to $57 million a year with 2,000 workers if it continued using current equipment.

In Tampa, an outbound in-line baggage screening system at Terminal E is operating, with another $130 million of work under way to fit the other terminals with the system. Work on the new 275,000-sq-ft, 14-gate terminal began in June 2001 and was completed ahead of schedule in late 2002, despite reconfiguration caused by 9/11.

OUT OF SIGHT Conveyor belts carry checked bags to basement rooms and eventually out to the plane.

"We were more in a position to accept emergent changes than a typical project" thanks to working design-build, says Jim Clemens, vice president of the Tampa office of Skanska USA Building Inc., which led the DB team with architect Hellmuth, Obata + Kassabaum, St. Louis. The system scans baggage with an L-3 6000 scanner produced by Level 3 Communications, and moves pieces on a conveyor belt built beneath people mover tracks. The design-build job to extend this system to the other three terminals is to be completed in 2005.

Project leaders assigned teams to work specifically with TSA on checkpoint and security issues. Checkpoints are fitted with five security lanes and new wanding stations. To make room for the new equipment, "we had to eliminate all the baggage makeup areas that carriers used for years to collect and sort baggage carts," says Clemens. "We cleared the space and relocated all air carriers from the landside terminal out to their respective airside terminals." The airside areas received new reception points for the baggage coming off the conveyor belts.

Construction included a 51,000-sq-ft sortation facility. "We built $17 million worth in 17 weeks," Clemens notes.

Of 20 project team members for baggage handling, just three were related to construction, note Skanska officials. "We have MIT engineers, chemical processing engineers, mechanical and electrical engineers. Is it still putting up buildings and pouring concrete? Yes," says Clemens. "But...we have to elevate technological skill sets. We deal hourly with flight schedules. We’ve assimilated ourselves into the airline culture."

The second phase in airport baggage screening work has been a windfall for material handling companies such as FKI Logistex, Danville, Ky. "Most of what we’re doing now is online baggage screening," says Don Anderson, FKI airport systems director. FKI provided the system for Tampa and this month won an $8-million contract at McCarran International Airport in Las Vegas. The contract coves installation of 12 L-3 machines and a conveyor system along with Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) baggage tags.

"The RFID concept isn’t new," says Anderson. "But it’s always been cost-prohibitive until recently." RFID tags now cost about 25 each. Affixed to a bag, the technology provides a higher level of detection. "McCarron will be the first airport to go 100% RFID for all departing bags, but in two to three years...it’ll come fast to other airports," Anderson predicts. "With EDS, you can expect to get scan rates in the 90% accuracy range. With RFID it goes to 99.9%."

McCarran put its $1.4-billion capital improvements program on hold after 9/11, but saw its saw numbers revive in 2002, with 35 million passengers. In 2003 it awarded a $90-million contract to local firm Sletten Construction Co. of Nevada for a 10-gate, 197,000-sq-ft terminal addition and a 167-ft-tall traffic control tower. FKI’s system is part of a $125 million program, with local Flagship Construction performing the $18-million first phase. The screening system is due to be completed in May 2004.

PB Aviation President Gerald FitzGerald says designers must be aware of impending changes to technology. He compares current systems to mainframe computers. "In a few years the desktop version will be out," he says. "It will have tremendous impact on [associated] space and manpower....You don’t want to overexpand, if in three months you don’t need that space. It’s a tremendous challenge for people designing EDS systems."

The key for all airport work is flexibility, say scores of airport designers and builders. One example of that mindset is at San Francisco’s international terminal, a common-use facility where no airline has its own separate facilities. Building a common system for all carriers enabled the airport to be 100% EDS compliant for the 2002 TSA deadline.

McCarron also uses common-use machines such as electronic check-in kiosks. "It’s a low-cost alternative to building more space," says Scott Collier, consultant with Orlando-based ZHA Inc., an airport program management firm. Jayne O’Donnell, aviation vice president for New York City-based Turner Construction Co., points out that Las Vegas utilizes a common-gate system in one of its concourses so that no carrier has a designated gate. "It’s extremely flexible and others are just starting to recognize the value of that," she says.

Changes to in-line systems won’t come right away–some airports still need more funding before they can even be implemented. "Nobody knows when TSA will certify a higher through-put machine," says FKI’s Anderson. "But when that happens, airports could very well leave their existing machines in place for another three to four years. Then, when traffic is overwhelming, they’ll replace them with the quicker machines and that has ramifications to the layout of the conveyor that feeds the machine." But it won’t require nearly as much work as what is happening now to get in-line systems initially installed, he adds.

Funding for that work may come through the newly approved four-year, $60-billion aviation bill. The measure authorizes $14.2 billion for federal airport grants and $2 billion for a new Aviation Security Capital Fund, authorized at $500 million a year and administered by the Dept. of Homeland Security. The fund has a dedicated revenue stream from security fees that airline passengers pay. Funding is subject to congressional appropriations. For 2004, Congress allotted $250 million (ENR 12/1 p. 13).

SPACE HOGS Airports want to move machines out of their ticket lobbies.

Most projects coming from the security fund "will be about figuring out in-line functions," says William Fife, aviation vice president for New York City-based DMJM + Harris. "Only a few airports have put the in-line systems in. They’ll all need to do it. EDS machines in [terminal] lobbies have eaten up the capacity." And capacity issues will return as air travel ramps back up.

Planners will also look beyond baggage screening at terminals to adjacent air cargo and perimeter facilities, says Mike Stephens, senior aviation planner for HDR, Omaha. Hardening parking structures and tunnels, inspecting large vehicles accessing an airport and identification and training procedures for construction workers at airports are some of the immediate issues, he says.

TSA is expected to come out with a notice of proposed rulemaking by year’s end based on recommendations for air cargo screening, which include perimeter security and new technologies.

Of course, nothing is predictable. Another extreme event "will change the paradigm all over again," says Arthur Debowy, principal with CDG Group, a New York City-based architecture firm.

Click below for more articles from special report "Airports of the Future">>

Introduction: Challenges in Airport Design and Construction Aren't New
Design: The Future is At the Gate
International: Global Aviation Takes Off
Regionals: Reviving with Revisions
Connections: Take the Train to the Plane
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