Dallas/Fort Worth Airport initiated some big changes in 2000, changes that will make air travel safer, easier and more convenient for our customers and make getting around inside the Airport quicker and simpler - improvements that will serve the needs of our customers well into the 21st Century."
What a difference a year can make. In 2000, the Dallas/Ft. Worth Airport was most concerned with providing "world-class service and amenities." Since declaring their intent in their 2000 Annual Report, which was released to the public in early 2001, safety and security issues have come out of the shadows. In the wake of September 11, 2001, Airport officials, the traveling public, the media, the industry and our government have struggled to reassess the role of security and incorporate stricter rules into our daily lives.
Immediately after the events of September 11, DFW officials did an outstanding job of communicating with the public and transforming itself into a secure and reassuring environment for the 61 million travelers passing through it every year. A total of 22 press releases, including 6 addresses from senior management, were issued between the 11th and the end of the month. While this pace has declined in recent months, it has not yet returned to the rate of two press releases per month that were standard prior to September. The emphasis on frequent and open communications has apparently had a positive effect, as travelers are returning to Dallas skies in greater numbers than projected. In fact, DFW and American Airlines recently announced the addition of 21 nonstop daily flights between April and June 2002.
As important as communication is, it must be backed up with actions to yield these kinds of results. Some of the steps taken by DFW in September to improve security include:
Requiring all terminal employees working in secure areas to pass through passenger security checkpoints and increased screenings prior to reporting for work.
Closing all "airline only" automated entrances.
Suspending employee train service.
Removing all knives/cutting instruments from commercial kitchens and storage areas.
At the same time it was implementing these and other enhanced security measures, the Airport was adjusting its annual budget. A $4.5 million loss was projected for fiscal year 2001, which ended September 30. To cover the shortfall, an immediate budget cut of $10 million was made as part of a contingency plan. Ongoing capital development plans, however, remained in progress and on budget. The Airport is in the first stage of a Capital Development Program that is projected to cost $2.6 billion and take five years to complete.
Among the capital developments that continuing as planned were the construction of a new terminal (Terminal D) and an Automated People Mover. Terminal D. has been referred to as the "Crown Jewel" of the Capital Development Program. This 2 million square-foot terminal with room for 23 wide-body swing gates, 120 ticketing positions, a Federal Customs Inspection Facility capable of processing 2,800 passengers an hour and an integrated hotel, which is scheduled to be completed in 2005 has raised security questions since the planning stages. It is not so much what will be going on inside the terminal that is cause for concern but what is going on outside it.
An elevated access road planned for the new terminal would pass within 20 feet of a terminal radar approach control facility. The facility, which handles 4,300-5,000 aircraft arriving or leaving DFW, Love Field or other smaller airports in the area, could be largely destroyed by detonating a 1,000 pound truck bomb on the road, according to a FAA-commissioned report. Stating that other changes in the project would enhance security and that surveillance cameras placed along the road (which will be designated a no stopping, standing or parking zone) are sufficient precautions, the FAA approved the road over the objections of the air traffic controllers. The controllers supported the construction of a large blast wall even though it would offer only limited protection, carries a huge cost (DFW already plans to spend $1 million/day on CDP projects and would occupy land intended for other uses. The Airport has made moves such as removing signs pointing to the facility, building a smaller blast wall and reinforcing the windows and wall panels of the roadside portion of the facility. The dispute between the FAA, air traffic controllers, and DFW, illustrates the complexity of issues that the industry, the government and the public will have to face in the coming months and years as they try to balance heightened security concerns, tighter security regulations and convenience. In this instance, the compromise solution is probably a good one, since, by all accounts, none of the parties are completely happy and satisfied with it.
Security is not an issue confined to the new terminal. The Airport has already revalidated 36,500 security badges currently in use on Airport grounds. More than 4,000 background checks including criminal history checks have been completed on airline and Airport personnel.
In addition to these measures, DFW has implemented security measures above and beyond what the FAA has mandated by:
Closing more than 150 employee access doors.
Re-opening only those employee access doors equipped with security screening and security personnel.
Relocating electronic badge-screening equipment to security checkpoints, further assuring that all employees have valid credentials.
Hiring 72 civilian guards and stationing them at all roadway entrances to aircraft parking or service areas (since Sept. 11 these positions have been staffed by law enforcement personnel).
Increased patrolling of parking areas.
Inspection of parked vehicles.
Stationing DFW Airport Police or local officers at all 20 passenger screening checkpoints (to be implemented after deployment of National Guard troops ends May 31, 2002 at an estimated cost of $8-10 million annually).
To help cope with the new and unexpected costs, as well as the losses that have occurred since September, DFW has applied to the Transportation Department to be allowed to raise the Passenger Facility Charge (PFC) from $3 to $4.50 per round trip ticket. Other increases in passenger fees or the sale of bonds may also be used to raise the necessary funds.
Congress also passed a law requiring airlines further inspect checked bags by means of:
Matching passenger and bag prior to bag handling by an airline
Although these regulations are stated as a requirement for the airlines, it is unlikely they can be accomplished without the assistance of individual airports. After all, airports provide the facilities through which passengers and bags must pass to get to the airlines. DFW is spending $2.3 million to hire consultants to develop a plan for accommodating the estimated 80 bomb detection machines needed to comply with this new regulation. Since a layered approach is needed to meet these new regulations, DFW must continue to work with the industry, the federal government and the airlines, if airport security is going to be strengthened and enhanced sufficiently to allay the fears of the flying public.
DFW provides service to more than 150 destinations worldwide and is one of two airports in the world serving as home for two hub carriers. The Airport employs more than 1,800 people and 65% of its customers are connecting passengers. There is a long-standing commitment to customer service as the 2000 Annual Report says:
Customers - the people who fly in and out of DFW Airport - form the heart of our mission. We are working hard to bring you an airport unlike any you've ever seen. It's customer-friendly. It's extremely efficient. It's all the things you wouldn't normally expect from an airport."
That perspective has not changed since September 11 although how it is being implemented has. Today, efficiency means having the shortest lines (averaging less than 10 minutes) at security checkpoints and providing Airport Ambassadors or terminal coordinators to direct passengers to nearby alternative checkpoints should a bottleneck occur. It means enhancing the DFW web site so customers can get information on parking and flights before they arrive at the airport. And it means piloting a face recognition software system to enhance security.
The face recognition software system is from New Jersey-based Visionics. At various locations in the airport, faces are scanned into the software system. The system can then be used to match the scanned faces to those of known of suspected criminals or terrorists, or it can simply be used to follow a suspicious individual as they move through the terminal of airport facility. DFW has set aside $1 million to purchase the system if it proves effective.
The commitment to security is likely to be as enduring as the commitment to customer service at DFW. This will require airport officials to make some hard financial choices, between what is easy for the airport and the public and the best way to protect passengers and employees. It is difficult to know exactly how all of these measures will work out or what impact they will have…