Focus on
SECURITY

Airports are redesigning terminals and checkpoint areas to meet security requirements in a post-9/11 world, while at the same time ensuring that any improvements take into account the implementation of future technology.
By Robert Silk

Illustration by Wan Wei/Shutterstock.com & Aurielaki/Shutterstock.com

Illustration by Wan Wei/Shutterstock.com & Aurielaki/Shutterstock.com

Illustration by Wan Wei/Shutterstock.com & Aurielaki/Shutterstock.com

At Salt Lake City Airport, just as at airports around the U.S., the onset of TSA passenger screening in the aftermath of 9/11 required makeshift adaptations.

Old terminal buildings were retrofitted to comply with modern security requirements. And in the process, security lanes were put down wherever they needed to be, said Tad Kaczor, deputy director for the airport’s terminal redevelopment program.

The adaptations have left Salt Lake City with its current alignment, in which Terminal 2 has eight security lanes serving flights for hub carrier Delta, and Terminal 1 has six security lanes serving other airlines. A third security checkpoint with two lanes services arriving international passengers who are connecting on to a domestic flight.

But in September, Salt Lake is slated to open a $4.1 billion facility featuring a single terminal that will replace the disparate terminals of the 1960s-era airport. There, 16 security lanes servicing departing passengers will be centralized in one location. A separate six-lane checkpoint will service connecting international passengers.

The consolidated screening hall will also feature changes designed to accommodate new screening technologies, enhance the general safety of the area and improve the passenger experience.

“We were able to prethink a lot of things. Our airport will be a lot safer because we’ve been able to start with a clean sheet of paper.”
— Tad Kaczor, Salt Lake City Airport

“We were able to prethink a lot of things” Kaczor said. “Our airport will be a lot safer because we’ve been able to start with a clean sheet of paper.”

Other airports have taken similar steps as modern screening requirements have spurred them to consolidate security checkpoints in conjunction with broader capital projects.

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A rendering of the new Salt Lake City Airport terminal, which is slated to open late this year.

A rendering of the new Salt Lake City Airport terminal, which is slated to open late this year.

A rendering of the new Salt Lake City Airport terminal, which is slated to open late this year.

In the meantime, the TSA is pushing forward with technology trials and introductions aimed at making security screening technologies faster, more comfortable and more effective. In some cases, the physical enhancements built into new security screening halls facilitate the adoption of the new technologies or ease the way for the adoption of technologies that are still years away from deployment.

"Since most airports were designed in the pre-9/11 world, they weren’t designed with security in mind. What we are seeing now is airports trying to consolidate the checkpoint areas; having more passenger lanes available; trying to accommodate TSA PreCheck members, employees and flight crews that come through."
— Jeff Price, Metropolitan State University in Denver

Aviation security professor Jeff Price, who teaches at Metropolitan State University in Denver, said, “Since most airports were designed in the pre-9/11 world, they weren’t designed with security in mind. What we are seeing now is airports trying to consolidate the checkpoint areas; having more passenger lanes available; trying to accommodate TSA PreCheck members, employees and flight crews that come through.”

Airports undertaking extensive redevelopments or capital projects have been especially keen to consolidate security checkpoints. Along with Salt Lake City, recent and in-progress examples include New Orleans, New York LaGuardia, Newark and Kansas City.

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New Orleans’ Louis Armstrong Airport has consolidated its security checkpoints.

New Orleans’ Louis Armstrong Airport has consolidated its security checkpoints.

The consolidated checkpoint at the airport has 15 lanes and can be expanded to 17 lanes.

The consolidated checkpoint at the airport has 15 lanes and can be expanded to 17 lanes.

New Orleans’ Louis Armstrong Airport has consolidated its security checkpoints.

New Orleans’ Louis Armstrong Airport has consolidated its security checkpoints.

The consolidated checkpoint at the airport has 15 lanes and can be expanded to 17 lanes.

The consolidated checkpoint at the airport has 15 lanes and can be expanded to 17 lanes.

In New Orleans, where Louis Armstrong Airport replaced its outdated 1950s terminal in November, the three concourses in the new $1.3 billion terminal can all be reached via a single, 15-lane security checkpoint that can be expanded to 17 lanes. In contrast, at the old airport, a separate checkpoint was required for each concourse.

Similarly, at LaGuardia, where an $8 billion rebuild is partially open, new terminals B and C are replacing what used to be four terminals, and each of the new terminals will have consolidated TSA areas. For example, the new Delta Terminal C will feature four concourses serviced by a single security checkpoint.

In nearby Newark, the $2.7 billion Terminal One, the first portion of which is slated to open late next year, will have a consolidated TSA checkpoint, as well. The layout, planning documents say, “provides for 18 screening lanes and a generously sized passenger queue area as well as a recomposure zone post-security.”

And in Kansas City, where what was once a three-terminal airport is slated to be replaced in 2023 with a single, $1.5 billion terminal, disparate TSA facilities will be combined. Currently, the airport has seven checkpoints with a total of 18 lanes spread over its two terminals still in operation. Those lanes will be condensed into one checkpoint at the new airport.

Airport planning documents explain that the existing terminals have depths of just 75 feet. The shallow nature of the buildings have enabled easy foot access to gates. But the buildings weren’t developed for the current era, with strict divides between the presecurity, land-side area and the secure air-side of the airport.

In a 2016 letter to the airport, the TSA weighed in on Kansas City’s space constraints.

“Simply put, facility designs from 1972 do not effectively serve the security needs of the 21st century without ongoing modifications that can be costly and manpower intensive,” the TSA wrote.

By consolidating checkpoint areas, airports create obvious efficiencies for the TSA in terms of staffing. But as these new screening areas are developed, airports, with guidance from the TSA, are also incorporating features designed to meet tomorrow’s technology needs. Notably, the agency distributes a checkpoint-design guide to assist airports, and it also administers a checkpoint-approval process.

Among other things, the guide helps airports build checkpoints that are equipped with the proper fiber-optic infrastructure to meet modern data requirements for today and tomorrow. In addition, it sets guidelines for everything from checkpoint perimeter walls to how to properly light a checkpoint so that glare, which interferes with motion-detection technology, is avoided.

Mara Winn, acting director for the TSA’s Innovation Task Force, said, “What we include in there is the ability to have airports plan for the future.”

"What we include in there is the ability to have airports plan for the future"
— Mara Winn, TSA's Innovation Task Force

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A rendering of the planned checkpoint area at San Francisco Airport’s international terminal.

A rendering of the planned checkpoint area at San Francisco Airport’s international terminal.

A rendering of the planned security area expansion at the airport’s international terminal.

A rendering of the planned security area expansion at the airport’s international terminal.

A rendering of the planned checkpoint area at San Francisco Airport’s international terminal.

A rendering of the planned checkpoint area at San Francisco Airport’s international terminal.

A rendering of the planned security area expansion at the airport’s international terminal.

A rendering of the planned security area expansion at the airport’s international terminal.

At screening areas, equipment is evolving. One technology that has been emerging for the past few years, for example, is automated screening lanes. Such lanes, which are already in place at a number of major U.S. airports, speed processing times by enabling four or five people to fill bins simultaneously. Bags that are deemed to need extra scrutiny as they pass through the belt are diverted automatically. The automated belts also have a second conveyor system that returns empty bins to the loading area.

New automated TSA security lanes installed by United for PreCheck in Terminal 1 at Chicago O’Hare.

New automated TSA security lanes installed by United for PreCheck in Terminal 1 at Chicago O’Hare.

New automated TSA security lanes installed by United for PreCheck in Terminal 1 at Chicago O’Hare.

Salt Lake City plans to make use of automated screening lanes in its new terminal, Kaczor said. Meanwhile, in San Francisco, where an upgrade of the international departures hall is underway, the hall’s updated security screening area will be designed for traditional lanes initially but with the ability to be easily adapted for automated lanes.

Automated screening units, said airport spokesman Doug Yakel, require more space than additional units and also weigh more. So designing for them can require using construction materials that have greater load-bearing capability.

The TSA deployed its first trial CT screening system last June at Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport.

The TSA deployed its first trial CT screening system last June at Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport.

The TSA deployed its first trial CT screening system last June at Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport.

Also heavier than traditional screening units are the 3D CT bag scanners that TSA is currently testing at 12 airports. The enhanced capability of the scanners could eventually put an end to requirements that flyers remove electronics from their carry-ons and also eliminate the need for checkpoint prohibitions on liquid containers larger than 3.4 ounces. But they, too, require airport designers to carefully consider construction materials and space requirements.

The TSA is slated to deploy the Analogic ConneCT 3D baggage-screening system for a trial run at New York JFK in April.

The TSA is slated to deploy the Analogic ConneCT 3D baggage-screening system for a trial run at New York JFK in April.

The TSA is slated to deploy the Analogic ConneCT 3D baggage-screening system for a trial run at New York JFK in April.

Meanwhile, the TSA expects data transmission to be increasingly integral at checkpoints of the future. The agency’s 2018 Biometric Roadmap envisions eventual implementation of automated facial-recognition technology at checkpoints, following the lead of Customs and Border Protection, which is now using such technology at exit and entry points. Implementation is to start in PreCheck lanes and then expand to other domestic travelers.

The TSA also envisions offering self-screening at airport checkpoints.

“In a similar fashion to self-checkout at grocery stores, self-tagging checked baggage or ATM machines, many patrons prefer an experience that they can complete without assistance and at their own pace,” the agency said in a request for information released to potential vendors in January.

Under the self-screening concept, passengers would enter into individual pods, where they would submit items for scanning. Within the pods, passengers could self-resolve routine alerts for items such as belts and wallets.

Self-screening will likely require integration of several different technologies, Winn said.

Richard Ham, who helped design security checkpoints during a 12-year career in TSA management, said that for airports, being prepared for future screening innovations can mean the difference between being an early recipient of new TSA technology or a laggard. Airports that are stuck with older machinery are likely to lose out when it comes to processing time, he said.

As airports consolidate screening areas, they are also focusing on safety and passenger comfort.

For Salt Lake City’s new facility, for example, the TSA asked that Kevlar be used to fortify a raised platform for police, Kaczor said. The platform will also have a built-in gun locker. Salt Lake City and New Orleans are also among the airports that have or plan to deploy sliding glass doors to divide the secure and pre-security sections of the checkpoint.

Ham, who is associate director of the University of Arkansas’ master’s program in operations management, said that for passenger comfort, common design elements include high ceilings and queue areas that offer multiple egress points in case people wish to step out of lines.

More comfortable lines make for safer checkpoints, as well, Ham said, since the fewer stressed people there are, the easier it is for security personnel to weed out potential bad actors using clues provided by their nervous behavior.

"Lower noise levels, less smell, not feeling like you’re crammed in and trapped, all that helps against stress."
— Richard Ham, University of Arkansas

“Lower noise levels, less smell, not feeling like you’re crammed in and trapped, all that helps against stress,” he said.

Being able to see where you are going is also a plus.

To wit, as part of an upcoming checkpoint upgrade in its Terminal 3, San Francisco Airport plans to improve sightlines so that people can see from the line, beyond the screening point and into the concourse.

“What we’re trying to do is take out the stress of not knowing what lies ahead,” Yakel said.

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