Moderated by Tom Sabulis
This holiday season is the first for Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport’s new international terminal. It’s a time when a complex operation — some 58,000 people work there — becomes even more complicated. Today, the airport’s general manager writes about holiday operations but rejects the idea, put forth by our second columnist, that the world’s busiest airport should eliminate its TSA government-run security screening in favor of its own private operation, something other U.S. airports have done with success.
Commenting is open below Baruch Feigenbaum’s column.
By Louis Miller
Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport is the world’s busiest passenger airport with more than 92 million travelers per year, and the winter holidays are an especially fast-paced time of year for our more than 58,000 employees.
This is our first holiday season at the new Maynard H. Jackson International Terminal, which opened in May. With the elimination of the baggage recheck process for Atlanta-bound international travelers, and with five security recheck lanes for domestic connecting passengers and eight security checkpoint lanes for international departing passengers in addition to the two parking structures with more than 3,500 parking spaces, the international terminal will offer a smooth experience for our global travelers.
The international terminal was not only built with customer service in mind. Sustainability was another priority in the terminal design as it was constructed with recycled and/or regionally produced materials. In fact, we are proud to have recently received Gold certification through the U.S. Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) program.
Earning LEED Gold certification is a vivid example of our goal to minimize our impact on the environment. Another green feature is the terminal’s low-flow restroom fixtures which, along with highly efficient cooling and heating systems, cut water usage, saving more than 40,000 gallons annually.
Hartsfield-Jackson is an airport community comprised of the airlines, our concessionaires, Customs and Border Protection, the Federal Aviation Administration, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) and many more who work together to enhance our customers’ travelling experience.
Some examples of this work are behind the scenes. Along a network of screening belts under the main terminal, TSA officers examine checked bags — on average, about 30,000 bags a day. And though there are some who propose that airports contract private screening companies, we believe the TSA does an excellent job at Hartsfield-Jackson, and we see no benefit in replacing federal employees with private screeners.
Other professionals working beyond public view are air traffic controllers 398 feet above the airport in the tower, guiding aircraft into and out of the Atlanta skies – more than 900,000 flights every year.
On any given day, about 250,000 travelers pass through Hartsfield-Jackson, and we are certain there will be millions beginning, ending or continuing their journeys home through Hartsfield-Jackson in the coming season.
Whether it’s the holiday season or during normal daily operations, we work to deliver world-class customer service.
Customs and Border Protection (CBP) statistics show that nearly 611,000 passengers were processed through the CBP during the 2011 holiday season. We expect similar numbers this holiday season.
If your travels home involve leaving the United States, or if you are welcoming someone home to the United States, you will be served by the more than 1,000 employees directly and indirectly involved in operating the international terminal.
The international terminal will help travelers heading home to nearly 80 destinations in more than 50 countries.
We’ll even help you stay connected in the international terminal with 54 power posts conveniently positioned among the seats at the gates. Each power post has six 110-volt AC outlets and two USB connections. You can recharge your laptop, smartphone and other electronic devices.
As you embark on your holiday travels, check our website at www.atlanta-airport.com for information about parking space availability, security wait times and arrival and departure times. Season’s greetings from the entire airport team.
Louis Miller is general manager of Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport.
By Baruch Feigenbaum
Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport, the busiest airport in the world, has been honored for its efficiency. However, there’s one thing many travelers at Hartsfield-Jackson would like to see improved: airport security.
In the wake of 9/11, then-President George W. Bush and a Republican-controlled Congress created the Transportation Security Administration (TSA). In doing so, they mistakenly made TSA both the provider of airport screening and the aviation security regulator. This conflict of interest makes the TSA answerable to no one.
“Security screeners at two of the nation’s busiest airports failed to find fake bombs hidden on undercover agents posing as passengers in more than 60 percent of tests last year, according to a classified report,” USA Today reported in 2007.
ABC News reported another classified report found screeners in Newark failed to spot bombs in 20 out of 22 tests.
And it’s not just passenger and baggage screening that needs to be improved. Over the past 10 years, there have been 1,300 instances of people trespassing in supposedly secure airport areas. Hartsfield-Jackson is not immune. Last month, a woman threw a bag over the security fence to a man standing next to a luggage cart. This unscreened bag could have easily been placed on a plane. Last year, a whistle blower was able to sneak unscreened food and drinks from outside the airport onto a plane.
TSA isn’t held accountable for these security failures, despite spending $3 billion of taxpayers’ money each year. A large part of TSA is simply security theater: take off your shoes, remove your laptop and no liquids over 3.4 ounces. It’s the illusion of security.
The most effective way to improve the screening quality at Hartsfield-Jackson is to let the airport directly manage the entire security process. After 9/11, five airports were allowed to use private screeners instead of TSA screeners. At one of those airports, San Francisco International (SFO), screening costs 40 percent less per capita than TSA screening at Los Angeles International (LAX). SFO screeners also process 65 percent more passengers than LAX screeners. Estimates show Atlanta could reduce costs by 42 percent and be 65 percent more efficient by replacing TSA screeners with private screeners.
Additional U.S. airports are being allowed to use private screeners, and 16 airports now do so. Hartsfield-Jackson should follow suit. (There’s an application process to go through to prove you are hiring qualified screeners and saving money.) The responsibility for screening baggage and passengers would be shifted from TSA to the airport. This makes the entire security system — passenger screening, perimeter security, employee screening, etc. — seamless.
Hartsfield-Jackson would hire, train and staff screeners, working with certified security companies. It would comply with all TSA regulations. And by removing its conflict of interest, which currently encourages it to cover up mistakes and security weaknesses, TSA could focus on its oversight role of finding and fixing security flaws at airports.
In Europe, that’s how it is done. Airport operators handle airport security. The Government Accountability Office (GAO) visited countries that use private screeners, including France, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom. GAO found they had better overall security systems and more substantial training requirements for screeners. According to the GAO, France requires 60 hours of training, while TSA trains screeners for just 12 hours.
The U.S. approach to airport security, created in the aftermath of 9/11, is deeply flawed. San Francisco is demonstrating that airports can provide better security and experiences for air travelers while improving efficiency. Hartsfield-Jackson can do better than the TSA. It’s time for the airport to opt out of TSA screening.
Baruch Feigenbaum in a transportation policy expert with the Reason Foundation, a libertarian think tank.