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Terrorist Threat Prompts Changes in Airport Design - 2002-05-06


The terrorist attacks of September 11th have dramatically altered air travel. Now it appears something else is about to change: the way airports are designed.

The Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, airport is considering moving check-ins to the ground level because only there are the floors strong enough to hold heavy new baggage screening equipment.

In Louisville, Kentucky, architects think a separate building will be needed to house the airport's new explosive detection devices.

Airport architect Keith Thompson of the global design firm Gensler says broad airport expanses and mini-malls with attractive stores and restaurants may become relics of the past. "Thirty or 40 years ago the key aspects of terminal design were convenience, then economy, and then security," he said. "That is really turned on its ear now, where it is security first, then revenue productivity, and convenience sometimes a distant third."

New security procedures require enormous increases in space. Before September 11, Richard Marichi of the Airports Council International says it took about six seconds per passenger to pass through security. Today, he says, it takes more than three times that long. "Well, what happens is if you triple the processing time, then you have to triple the number of lanes available if you want to keep the service level comparable," he said. "And many of our members are doing just that, they are increasing the number of lanes available."

But more lanes require more space. And on the baggage side of the equation, Mr. Marichi says, the issue is how many new screening devices do you need and where do you put them? "Many airport bag rooms do not have the space to accommodate the machines and some of the [Airport Council] members that we are talking to are expecting to have 30, 35, 40 machines, at some of the larger airports," said Richard Marichi.

"Expecting" is the key word. Keith Thompson says until the new U.S. Air Transportation Security Agency spells out exactly what the new requirements will be, everything is on hold. "We know what the equipment is and what its capabilities are and how to incorporate it," he said. "We know what the space is capable of and how to adapt it. But some of those adaptations are really quite specific to the procedures to be followed, and we do not know what those are yet."

For the moment, he says, airports are planning and worrying, aware that reconfiguring space to meet the new security guidelines will be a daunting and very expensive task.