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About $60 million from the state is expected to go toward the $250 million airport relocation. So far, about $19 million of that amount has been already distributed, and local lawmakers, along with city officials involved in the project, say they still believe the remaining $40 million will be allocated for the project.
“I still feel confident that we are going to find a way to get that funding for this next biennium,” State Rep. Gary Sukut, R-Williston, said, adding that the money may not come in a lump sum as originally hoped.
Legislators intended to draw the amount from oil impact grant funds, but those reserves are nearly depleted.
“That bucket was supposed to fill up to $140 million, and it didn’t,” Sukut said. “It’s hard to tell just exactly how (airport money) might get put together; there are so many issues right now that are involved in all of the funding that until some of these budgets that have to be met are stabilized, it’s hard to tell.”
Predicted revenue totals for the remainder of the 2015-2017 biennium, which ends June 30, show $46 million less than expected, and a $103 million shortfall for the general fund for 2017- 2019, Gov. Doug Burgum said on Thursday.
Among the cuts Burgum has suggested is to direct more oil tax revenue into the general fund, diverting it away from oil-producing areas of the state, including Williston.
Burgum proposes allowing $900 million, up from $300 million, in oil production tax into the state’s overall coffers.
A decision on where money for the new Williston airport comes from may lie with appropriations committees in the House and Senate, according to lawmakers.
“There have been discussions among leadership that Senate Bill 2013 will be the vehicle to amend the airport funding into,” Sen. Brad Bekkedahl, R-Williston, said.
The bill has been approved by the Senate and passed to the House.
Last month, legislators voted down a bill that included money for the airport and outlined the distribution of oil tax revenue to cities and towns in the state’s oil-producing western region.
While local officials acknowledge the unpredictable climate surrounding budget decisions, they say state money is essential for the new airport, which is in turn essential for financial growth in Williston.
“In this climate nothing’s for sure,” Mayor Howard Klug said, before pointing out that although construction has not yet started, the project is well underway, and in a position to take advantage of relatively lower-priced construction materials and services.
“We can’t continue to say that we’re going to have a first-class economy with the airport that we have,” he said. “We’re a long ways down the path toward building this airport. To get the project done and to get it done on time under budget, it has to be what was promised to us. The money needs to come in now so we can get this airport done by 2019.”
Officials have said the project will be paid for by a combination of city, state and federal money, with the FAA covering half of the cost, and the city and state splitting the difference. So far, the FAA has awarded about $54 million in grants, which have yet to be released.
Last fall, the city finalized the purchase of about 1,600 acres northwest of Williston from private landowners as the future site of the new Williston Basin International Airport, which is to take the place of the aging Sloulin Field International Airport.
Construction is scheduled to start this spring.
By Elizabeth Hackenburg firstname.lastname@example.org
Mar 11, 2017
By Janet Moore Star Tribune
MARCH 11, 2017 — 11:17PM
Thief River Falls has enjoyed commercial air service since the early 1950s, and many airlines have come and gone over the years. All fell victim to the harsh economics of the airline business.
Now, a small, federally subsidized airline called Boutique Air, which began service last year, offers 18 round-trip flights every week to the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport.
“It’s been excellent,” declared Thief River Falls Mayor Brian Holmer last week. “Our airport has really turned around.”
But another economic headwind is threatening air service at regional airports throughout the state and across the country — a national shortage of airline pilots.
Some 14,200 pilots are expected to retire from the four biggest U.S. airlines by 2022, and fewer young pilots are entering the profession to fill the void, according the Regional Air Service Alliance (RASA).
With too few pilots to fly the aircraft, and with airlines curtailing use of planes with 50 seats or fewer that typically serve smaller markets, the future of regional air service appears challenged.
REGIONAL AIR SERVICE ALLIANCE
William Swelbar, executive director of the Regional Air Service Alliance
Only nine airports in Minnesota offer airline service, but even that capacity means “the community can access the world,” said Cassandra Isackson, director of aeronautics at the Minnesota Department of Transportation. “It’s also a way for the world to access that community.”
While some communities like Thief River Falls are thriving due to niche services like Boutique Air, which flies eight-seat Swiss-made Pilatus PC-12 aircraft, other areas struggle to attract and retain airline service.
“If a community or a region doesn’t have air service, it’s not considered for economic development, a plant relocation or even a plant location,” said William Swelbar, RASA’s executive director and a research engineer at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
The stakes are high: The U.S. airline industry drives $1.6 trillion in economic activity annually, about 5 percent of the nation’s gross domestic product, according to the Federal Aviation Administration.
Brian Ryks, executive director/CEO of the Metropolitan Airports Commission, says big hubs like MSP benefit from thriving smaller airports because outstate passengers can connect to domestic and international flights. Almost 72,000 airplane seats a week feed into MSP nonstop from small communities, making the airport eighth in the nation by this measure.
Ryks, who ran both the Duluth and St. Cloud airports earlier in his career, is familiar with the challenges facing smaller communities.
“I would lose a lot of sleep just trying to retain air service we had, and expanding it takes a tremendous amount of effort,” he said. “When you have air service, you try to encourage people to use it, because if they don’t, you lose it.”
Shortage or not?
Richard Anderson, retired chief executive of Delta Air Lines, said in a February speech at the Economic Club of Minnesota that airlines are facing an “acute pilot shortage. There’s a big demographic hole in our pilot base.”
After the Sept. 11 terror attacks, airline service was cut back and the Great Recession also hampered pilot recruitment.
“The pilot shortage severely affects smaller regional airlines, where many pilots begin their careers and [where] you’re paid less than the majors,” said Kent Lovelace, a professor and director of aviation industry relations in the University of North Dakota.
Until 2014, annual pay for new first officers was about $25,000 at regional airlines, but Lovelace said compensation at the regionals has improved in recent years to around $60,000 a year with bonuses. “It’s too early to tell whether that will generate more interest” in the profession, he said.
The average cost for a student’s flight training at UND, a nationally known aviation program, is about $64,000 (not including room and board and tuition), which results in serious student loan debt for budding pilots.
For millennials considering aviation as a career, quality-of-life issues resonate, too. Airline pilots live out of a suitcase at work and often have erratic schedules.
Joe Hedrick, manager of the Thief River Falls airport, says he gave up studies to become an airline pilot. “I learned about the starting salary, and having to sleep in dingy hotel rooms and crash pads. None of that seemed attractive to me.”
JEFF WHEELER, STAR TRIBUNE
Brian Ryks and his wife, Tracy, with MAC Commissioner Dixie Hoard, left, listened while visiting with MAC Commissioner Lisa Peilen at the reception in his honor on March 22, 2016.
But Anderson says the real reason regional airports don’t succeed is because of simple economics.
The Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA), the union representing pilots, says business decisions by the airlines affect service at regional airports — not a shortage of pilots. “We don’t see a correlation between the two,” said Capt. Paul Ryder, ALPA resource coordinator.
Ryder said regional airlines that offer competitive pay and benefits, work-life balance and “career progression” are hiring pilots. “The pilots are out there,” he said.
Others claim that regulations are choking the pilot pipeline — a charge the pilots’ union rejects.
Beginning in August 2013, the FAA required airline pilots (with some exceptions) to have a minimum of 1,500 flight hours in the cockpit before being hired as a first officer — up from 250 hours. The change followed the 2009 crash of a Colgan Air regional jet near Buffalo, N.Y., that killed 50 people.
The new regulations had “the effect of constricting and elongating the supply ‘pipeline’ of much-needed airline pilots,” according to Flightpath Economics, a Colorado consulting firm.
At the time, Great Lakes Airlines served Thief River Falls, but it “lost a lot of pilots, and became very unreliable for us,” Hedrick said, noting the airline stopped flying there for eight months in 2014. That year, just 734 passengers flew to and from the airport; nearly 10 times that many did so last year. (Figures from 2016 include service provided by both Boutique Air and Great Lakes.)
Last week, Digi-Key Electronics, which now employs about 3,200 people in Thief River Falls, announced that it was considering a $200 million expansion there that would create 1,000 jobs. “Having air service here makes it easier for their vendors, suppliers and employees,” Hedrick said.
Thief River Falls, Bemidji, Brainerd, Chisholm/Hibbing and International Falls are eligible for subsidies under the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Essential Air Service program, which was enacted following deregulation of the airline industry in 1978 to preserve service to smaller communities.
But there’s talk that the Trump administration will eliminate most federal airport subsidies, including the Essential Air Service program.
The fate of the program is “political fodder,” Swelbar said. “Everyone knows you’re just one tweet away from a change. I’m hearing mixed messages from Washington about the program going forward.”
It’s just a matter of finding investors, leasing the planes, making connections with the airports and developing an iPhone application for customers to schedule their flights.
Gellerman wants to fly a nine-passenger Cessna 208 Grand Caravan from Prescott to the North Las Vegas airport with a stop in Kingman to pick up passengers “on demand.”
He’s not looking for the government to subsidize flights through the Essential Air Service program that was a complete flop when Great Lakes Airlines operated twice-weekly flights from Kingman to Denver and Los Angeles.
“(President) Trump wants to eliminate waste. Well, there’s a lot of waste in Essential Air Service,” Gellerman said.
The program started in the 1970s and ballooned from $50 million in subsidies in 1997 to more than $300 million in 2017, he pointed out.
Gellerman has a Washington attorney and economist on board for the startup airline, as well as a Boeing 737 pilot. He would fly FAR (Federal Aviation Regulations) 135, which regulates charter private aircraft.
They’re planning on starting an Indiegogo crowdfunding campaign to raise $2 million to $5 million for the airline business. They’re also building an informational campaign website.
Gellerman said he will lease the aircraft to preserve operations capital and derive tax benefits.
The Cessna 208 Grand Caravan is the most comfortable, economical aircraft appropriate for operating at an hourly cost range where fares would be attractive to “regular folks,” Gellerman said.
He will not be wholly reliant on EAS subsidies, which he believes have a “questionable future.”
Bob Riley, economic development director at Kingman Airport Authority, isn’t sure Gellerman’s plan will fly, but said he’d certainly be interested in meeting with him to discuss needs for terminal counter area, baggage handling and secured areas.
“Even though it sounds like the Uber of the skies, I would be interested in learning what FAA certificate he will be operating under, what his insurance capabilities are and, based on his certificate, what additional services we need to provide,” Riley said.
North Las Vegas is not preferred by air travelers looking to connect to other airlines through McCarran International Airport, so Riley would also like to know how Gellerman is going to transport people from one airport to the other.
Essential Air Service was specifically intended to get passengers into the national transportation network, Riley noted. Great Lake’s EAS program in Kingman was eliminated by the U.S. Department of Transportation due to lack of enplanements, he said.
Flying out of Northern Arizona and picking up passengers in Kingman sounds expensive, said John Dougherty, Kingman city manager. But it’s another option and worth a shot.
“I hope this works out well for them and it ends up being dependable,” Dougherty said. “My one and only experience flying out of Kingman was a disaster. Hopefully, this private on-demand service will stick to schedules and be at a reasonable price.”
Airports are a tricky business, but they represent a golden opportunity for Leidos Holdings Inc. (NYSE: LDOS). Especially now that the Reston-based government services and technology firm is six months into its merger with Lockheed Martin Corp.’s Information Systems & Global Solutions business.
CEO Roger Krone told investors Thursday at Cowen and Co.’s 38th Annual Aerospace/Defense & Industrials Conference in New York City that the Leidos-IS&GS combination is well-positioned to expand on both companies’ history of performing airport modernization services. The only barrier now to dominating the market is the fact that it’s fragmented and there’s no one central authority governing every airport.
In December 2015, Leidos won a contract to provide runway management technologies and… more
"Airports are complicated entities,” Krone said. "Each airport’s governance process is different. Some are owned by cities. Some are owned by counties. Some are independent organizations.”
It’s impossible right now to take on a traditional "systems integrator" role at an airport, which would entail taking charge of the systems and processes that make up the air travel experience from, as Krone describes it, “curb to takeoff.” That’s where Krone wants to see a change.
"We would like to see some consolidation in airport management and ownership to where you could walk in as a systems integrator — and walk in holistically — and solve some of the issues,” Krone said. "Maybe we will get there.”
There are early signals from the White House that change could be coming.
On Thursday, President Donald Trump hosted a breakfast at the White House with representatives from the airline industry, telling the high-profile audience he would work to help them in “developing our aviation infrastructure.” In the course of that roundtable discussion, Gary Kelly, chairman and CEO of Southwest Airlines Co. (NYSE: LUV), suggested reforming the Federal Aviation Administration — changing it from a government agency to a not-for-profit corporation with a board representing all industry stakeholders, including those in government and the private sector.
"Until that time the airport business development model is: you go in at four or five different entry points,” Krone said. To secure a hold on any one airport, Leidos has to bid on contracts with the Transportation Security Administration, the FAA, as well as various airlines and airport authorities. It’s a scramble to piece together work, as opposed to grabbing one contract that governs it all.
– James Bach Staff ReporterWashington Business Journal
By: News Staff Posted: Feb 14, 2017 04:06 PM EST
NBC News has learned that actor Harrison Ford was involved in a potentially serious incident on Monday as he was piloting his private plane, a single engine Husky.
Ford, an experienced pilot who collects vintage planes, had been instructed to land on runway 20-L at John Wayne Airport in Orange County, California but mistakenly aimed for a taxiway instead. His plane passed over the top of an American Airlines 737 loaded with 110 passengers and a six-person crew.
The passenger plane, AA flight 1546, managed to depart safely for Dallas just minutes after the incident.
Ford, 74, was captured on air traffic control recordings asking, "Was that airliner meant to be underneath me?"
Air traffic controllers then informed Ford that he had landed on a taxiway rather than the runway.
Landing on a taxiway is a violation of Federal Aviation Administration safety rules.
The FAA told NBC News that controllers gave Ford the proper landing instructions and that he read them back.
The incident has prompted an FAA investigation — which could result in anything from a simple warning letter to a suspension of Ford’s pilot’s license.
Ford has been involved in a series of crashes and near-misses while flying aircraft.
In 2015 he crash-landed a World War II-era airplane on a Santa Monica golf course after the engine failed, suffering a broken arm and minor head injuries.
He also crash-landed a helicopter in 1999 during a flight lesson in Ventura County, California. And in 2000, Ford’s six-seater Beechcraft Bonanza scraped the runway during an emergency landing at Nebraska’s Lincoln Municipal Airport.
But Ford is revered as an excellent pilot in aviation circles. He was inducted as a Living Legend of Aviation.
A witness to Ford’s 2015 Santa Monica crash told NBC News that Ford "saved several lives" by rerouting his crash landing to the Penmar Golf Course to avoid a tract of suburban homes.
NBC News reached out to Ford’s representatives for comment, but did not immediately receive a reply.
SEATTLE – Saturday night turned many of the world’s airports into large protest forums following an executive order issued by President Donald Trump temporarily blocking refugees and some others from seven majority Muslim countries from entering the United States.
Sea-Tac Airport, part of the Port of Seattle, was no different. Over the course of the day and into the early hours of Sunday morning, the situation went from peaceful to pepper-spray.
“We feel like we did a good job, but we have lessons learned, and we’re looking at that right now,” said Port of Seattle Director of Security Wendy Reiter.
Port Police are part of a mutual aid agreement of about 10 jurisdictions. Other departments include Kent, Federal Way, and Seattle.
Some protesters formed human chains trying to keep passengers and crews from getting to their flights. Then police started moving in, eventually using bikes to push the crowd out of the terminal. Some officers used pepper spray in at attempt to control the crowd.
The airport protests have already led to changes at the region’s two largest transit agencies, Sound Transit and King County Metro.
At 6:30 p.m. that night, with more protesters heading to the airport, Port of Seattle Police asked Sound Transit to stop dropping off protestors at the airport ‘s light rail station. The agency says three southbound and three northbound trains kept going. Trains began serving the airport again 33 minutes later, and now the transit agencies chief executives will be alerted immediately.
“We can’t have transit used as a tool to suppress participation,” Sound Transit CEO Peter Rogoff said. “I’m not saying that’s what the Port of Seattle did, but that’s one reason why we restarted service right away, because we did not see a threat to safety or security.”
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Inside LAX’s New Anti-Terrorism Intelligence Unit
If the airport’s experimental team succeeds, every critical infrastructure site in the world might soon have its own in-house intel operation.
By Alex Petrowsky
No one paid the car any attention as it crept forward through morning traffic at LAX. Travelers wandering the arrivals area with their smartphones out, hands held up to block the sun, never even gave it a second thought.
Then the driver swerved, accelerating onto the sidewalk in front of Terminal 7. It ran over bags, flattened signage, and collided with pedestrians too slow to jump out of the way. Within seconds, before anyone had a chance to respond—to help the victims, to call 911—the driver detonated a homemade bomb hidden inside his car trunk.
The resulting explosion obliterated the front of the terminal, leading to a partial building collapse, and a catastrophic fire began to spread toward the gate area. The window-shattering blast was heard throughout the airport as black smoke, visible for miles, lifted in a pillar into the sky. Dozens were killed instantly.
Suicide car bombing had come to LAX..
* * *
In the summer of 2014, Anthony McGinty and Michelle Sosa were hired by Los Angeles World Airports to lead a unique, new classified intelligence unit on the West Coast. After only two years, their global scope and analytic capabilities promise to rival the agencies of a small nation-state. Their roles suggest an intriguing new direction for infrastructure protection in an era when threats are as internationally networked as they are hard to predict.
McGinty, 54, is a retired D.C. homicide detective now living in Pasadena. McGinty’s tenure in the nation’s capital, where he attained the rank of detective first grade, coincided with that city’s worst era for crime, in the early 1990s, when it was known as the murder capital of the United States. A Marine veteran who was stationed variously in Okinawa, Kosovo, Honduras, and the Mediterranean, and, as a reservist, served in the second Gulf War, McGinty is quiet, keeps his hair shorn close to his scalp, and bears a slight resemblance to actor J.K. Simmons.
While he was working the murder beat back east, McGinty also applied for and received a top-secret clearance. “I’d done everything I’d wanted to do in homicide,” he explained to me. What’s more, he said, he had come back from his reserve deployment in Iraq to find his old squad broken up, his former partners gone. It was time for something new. Obtaining a security clearance helped pave the way for him to become a liaison between D.C. police command staff and the National Counter-Terrorism Center in Northern Virginia. There, one of his core responsibilities was to review classified overseas intelligence reports, detailing threats that might target the D.C. area. It was this experience that set the stage for his career’s unexpected second act at LAX.
His partner Sosa, 37, graduated with a degree in international relations from Boston University in May 2001. Trilingual in French, Spanish, and English, Sosa did not immediately know what sort of career to pursue. As a student, she had often flown cross-country from Boston to Los Angeles to visit her father, who works for the airline industry. When the 9/11 terrorist attacks occurred only four months after she graduated, Sosa realized that one of the planes, hijacked by ringleader Mohamed Atta, was on the same Boston-to-Los Angeles route Sosa herself had flown so many times before.
No longer confused about what to do with her degree, Sosa was moved by the attacks to apply for a federal intelligence job. Six months later, she disappeared into the labyrinth of U.S. intelligence, toiling as an analyst over the course of the next decade in both Florida and D.C., where she was often a youthful, even glamorous presence in a world of fluorescent lights and office cubicles. Her move out west to Los Angeles was not only professionally motivated: Sosa wanted to live near her family again, to ensure that her now 7-year-old daughter could grow up in the company of her grandparents.
As McGinty describes it, their current operation falls somewhere between a start-up and a think tank. Because she came from an intelligence background, Sosa had an eye for big-picture narratives; McGinty’s 25 years as a street detective and war veteran gave him tactical insights and a deep knowledge of police culture. Together, the two of them have brought classified in-house intelligence analysis to one of the world’s busiest airports, augmenting traditional beat-police operations with an investigatory agenda previously only associated not just with a federal agency but with the power and reach of a sovereign nation.
In his September 2016 cover story for The Atlantic, Stephen Brill suggested that infrastructure’s outsize political influence today has only been amplified and accelerated by the country’s ongoing reaction to the terrorist attacks of 9/11. Under the moniker of “critical infrastructure protection,” energy-production, transportation-logistics, waste-disposal, and other sites have been transformed from often-overlooked megaprojects on the edge of the metropolis into the heavily fortified, tactical crown jewels of the modern state. Bridges, tunnels, ports, dams, pipelines, and airfields have an emergent geopolitical clout that now rivals democratically elected civic institutions.
Sosa and McGinty’s unit is LAX’s attempt to reinvent itself as a player on the international intelligence stage. Their work promises to propel the city’s aging airport to the forefront of today’s conversations about what it means to protect critical infrastructure and, in the process, to redefine where true power lies in the 21st-century metropolis.
* * *
The car bomb that decimated Terminal 7 shut down LAX for nearly a week and led to a nationwide terror alert. Flights around the world were affected. Incoming planes had to be rerouted to other regional airports, causing knock-on problems there. Cargo losses at LAX alone were estimated at more than $100 million per day. Over the course of the next week, the death toll continued to rise as victims succumbed to their injuries in the overwhelmed emergency rooms of local hospitals.
The attack was a sobering but—thankfully—fictional scenario, part of an emergency tabletop exercise held in a conference room deep inside the Westin Los Angeles Airport Hotel. The meeting was what’s known as an Aviation Security Contingency Plan Exercise, or AVSEC. Workers in airport traffic control, Homeland Security, Fire Department, Transportation Security Administration, and police uniforms joined colleagues from the FBI, multiple international and domestic airlines, and nearby airport hotels to discuss the latest in threat prevention. The exercise occurs once a year, always with a different plot. There have been car bombs, hijackings, mass shootings—an ever-growing catalog of speculative catastrophes, all carefully studied and dissected for their training or tactical value.
The idea of bringing McGinty and Sosa to Los Angeles can be traced back to Mayor Antonio Villagairosa’s administration. In November 2010, Villagairosa assembled a Blue Ribbon Panel to assess the state of airport security in and around Los Angeles. There was a general—and, as the panel confirmed, justified—fear that the region’s airports were not prepared to respond to a terrorist threat of any nature, let alone to something on the scale of 9/11. The group’s final report was released seven months later, in June 2011, and it included 162 pages of specific recommendations for the airport authority to implement as quickly as possible.
One of the commission’s key suggestions was that Los Angeles World Airports, or LAWA, the umbrella organization that controls not just LAX but a smaller regional airport in Van Nuys, “should consider creating the position of Director of Intelligence.” The person in this role “would proactively gather and share counterterrorism intelligence,” and he or she would do so not only with the region’s many airports, from LAX to Palm Springs, Van Nuys to San Diego, but also with federal—even, if necessary, international—law-enforcement agencies. To assist with this, the report suggested, the airport’s future director of intelligence should also hire “a staff focused exclusively on gathering and analyzing intelligence regarding terrorist threats.” LAX would no longer be dependent on secondhand reports.
Ethel McGuire, a senior LAWA official and member of the Blue Ribbon Panel, took this advice seriously. In the end, she hired not just one but two intelligence analysts for the job: Anthony McGinty and Michelle Sosa. McGuire was impressed by the complementary approaches that McGinty and Sosa employed—so she rewrote some budget lines and grabbed them both.
McGuire herself came to LAWA, where she is now assistant chief, after a full career at the FBI. She was, in fact, one of the very few female African American agents in the Bureau’s history. Her daughter is also now an FBI special agent, making them the only mother-daughter duo ever to serve in the FBI simultaneously.
McGuire is soft-spoken, with elegantly cropped hair and a helpful, even grandmotherly, demeanor. She and I met in person at the AVSEC exercise, during a break from discussions of terrorist car bombs, radiation fears, and terminal fires. Sosa and McGinty’s work is still experimental, she emphasized. “I didn’t know exactly how this would work,” McGuire said. After all, when she first got to LAWA in 2010, finding good intelligence about airport-directed threats was nearly impossible. “But I was like: Look, this was my former life. I know stuff happens at the airport! We’ve got to be able to provide something more if you want to protect this critical asset.”
LAX is a city within a city. At more than five square miles, it is only slightly smaller than Beverly Hills. More than 50,000 badged employees report to work there each day, many with direct access to the airfield—and thus to the vulnerable aircraft waiting upon it. More than 100,000 passenger vehicles use the airport’s roads and parking lots every day, and, in 2015 alone, LAX hosted 75 million passengers in combined departures and arrivals.
LAX is also policed like a city. The airport has its own SWAT team and employs roughly 500 sworn police officers, double the number of cops in the well-off city of Pasadena and more than the total number of state police in all of Rhode Island.
“Not only do you have the operational component,” McGuire said, “but you have all the policing—and policing is so different from intelligence gathering. What I wanted to do was to really heighten or enhance the intelligence portion. It is so impactful to how you police, why you police, where you police, and everything that you do in combating a terrorist threat.”
For their work to have any real tactical value, McGinty and Sosa need to assess a world that exists far beyond the perimeter of LAX. “This is global,” McGuire said. “We’re an international airport. We have about a hundred different countries flying here. If you stop traffic at LAX, it has an immediate global impact on aviation; if LAX shuts down, it immediately affects [one] hundred other countries.”
* * *
On a cloudless, 76-degree autumn day, I was picked up in an armor-plated Ford Interceptor driven by LAWA police officer Tia Moore. McGinty rode quietly in the back seat, phone in one hand, small notebook open on his knee.
“LAX attracts people who have a political agenda,” McGinty said. We were heading out onto the airfield for a combined introductory tour and routine daily patrol, where we drove for miles among the roots of jetways and towering international aircraft. A heat haze coming off the tarmac gave everything an otherworldly, almost oceanic shimmer. We passed baggage trucks and other security vehicles, and stopped at easily missed intersections marked on the ground with colored paint. With most vertical obstructions banned—lest they endanger the aircraft—the landscape has to be read on the ground, as if driving through a two-dimensional diagram five square miles in size.
Think of the so-called “Millennium Bomber,” McGinty told me as we drove on. He was arrested trying to cross the U.S./Canadian border back in December 1999 with a car full of explosives—and his stated goal had been to bomb LAX. Or think of the man who targeted Israeli airline El Al in a combined knife and gun attack at the airport on July 4, 2002. Or the unemployed anti-government conspiracy theorist who drove to LAX in November 2013 for no other reason than to shoot and kill a Transportation Security Administration (TSA) agent.
On the other hand, dramatic security events at the Los Angeles airport sometimes border on the absurd. In August 2016, a man dressed as Zorro, carrying a plastic sword, triggered an armed response by LAWA police; unfortunately for Zorro, his appearance coincided with panic over a possible active shooter somewhere else in the airport. The resulting near-stampede threw LAX into chaos, with passengers and employees alike fleeing through security doors and assembling outside near the runways. At the AVSEC exercise, the episode was alternately referred to as “Zorro Day” and the “Zorro Incident,” not without stifled laughter.
“You never know what you’re going to get,” McGinty said.
We stuck as close to the airport perimeter as we could, looking out at the black windows of nearby hotels, through which someone, of course, could also be watching us. McGinty explained that the process of gathering useful intelligence includes meeting with those local hotel managers to discuss potential threats. “Our job is to go beyond the perimeter,” he said. There might be a suspicious guest filming airplanes from his or her hotel room, for example, or someone setting off a hotel’s rooftop alarm. They might just be going outside for a smoke—or they might be trying to shoot down one of the many planes flying unnervingly low overhead.
Stacey Peel, a globally recognized expert on the security implications of airport design, would agree with this assessment. She told me that even the best-designed aviation facilities still have serious security flaws, especially if, for example, their runways are surrounded by badly managed hotels with direct views of the airplanes. Approach roads, parking lots, green spaces—let alone local crime statistics—all help to define an airport’s threat profile. Each profile, much to the consternation of security professionals, is resolutely, frustratingly unique.
Peel currently works in central London, where she is head of the “strategic aviation security” team at engineering super-firm Arup. She explained that every airport can be thought of as a miniature version of the city that hosts it. An airport thus concentrates, in one vulnerable place, many of the very things a terrorist is most likely to target. “The economic impact, the media imagery, the public anxiety, the mass casualties, the cultural symbolism,” Peel pointed out. “The aviation industry ticks all of those boxes.” Attack LAX and you symbolically attack the entirety of L.A., not to mention the nerve center of Western entertainment. It’s an infrastructural voodoo doll.
As the tour continued, McGinty stressed that even someone heading toward LAX in a taxi, acting strangely—perhaps holding unusual luggage, talking about God and bombs—needs to be on their radar. Does the driver have a way to contact airport security without tipping off the passenger? Will LAWA police lose track of the taxi amid the hundreds of others visiting the facility that day? Is the person inside even a danger?
We eventually reached a distant, all-but-silent corner of the airfield—where suspected bombs are dealt with. McGinty pointed my attention down, where a number of blue grids are painted on the concrete. These indicated spots where baggage could be detonated. He then noted a massive blue circle surrounding it all, a shape so large I, paradoxically, would not have noticed it. This circle, visible on Google Earth, marks the outer perimeter within which an entire aircraft could be parked during a bomb scare.
Of course, securing LAX doesn’t always involve big-ticket threats like this—or, indeed, even like Zorro Day. Officer Moore explained that she has responded to plenty of incidents of sheer stupidity, including stray pets, from dogs to birds, going wild in the terminals. A confused woman “off her meds” caused a seemingly endless series of car accidents in the passenger drop-off area. One night, two people caught sneaking a drink in a restricted area fled at great personal danger toward an active runway until Moore herself ran them down on foot. As trivial as these sound, any one of these events could have been a distraction for a larger terrorist incident; McGinty and Sosa must pay attention to every one of them.
While we were talking, I noticed a field of sand dunes and empty streets at the western end of the airport. There used to be a suburb there. A wealthy coastal enclave called Surfridge was acquired through eminent domain by the city of Los Angeles in the 1960s. Following a referendum in 1965, Surfridge was slowly dismantled in the name of airport safety, leaving behind nothing but uninhabited streets. The area is now officially a butterfly preserve, its cracked pavement nonetheless used by LAWA police as a convenient site for tactical-driver training school and simulated chemical attacks.
The ghostly remains of Surfridge also present an unusual security risk. As we drove through a padlocked gate, McGinty noted that various systems of alarms and sensors ring the now-dead neighborhood, a place where not a single house remains but where retaining walls and old water pipes are still visible sticking up from the sandy ground. The views of the sea are incredible.
If an alarm goes off, it could just be kids sneaking in to smoke pot, he pointed out, or it could be something far worse. He mentioned the possibility of a terrorist group or cartel-affiliated gang smuggling shoulder-fired missiles into the city with the goal of shooting down planes at LAX. “The dunes,” as McGinty referred to Surfridge, would be an ideal location for this.
Indeed, the outer edge of LAX is one of the most interesting parts of the entire airport. I spent several hours that day touring secure construction sites; an emergency-operations center with clocks set to the local time in Singapore, Sydney, London, and Moscow; a sprawling fuel depot, connected by underground pipelines all the way to Long Beach; and a closed-circuit television (CCTV) hub, but it was this transition zone between LAX and the rest of the city, where the civilian world hits the secure one, that emerged as perhaps McGinty’s greatest source of concern.
Of course, the true shape of the airport’s perimeter is invisible to the unaided eye; it is much more high-tech than mere fences and automotive patrols. Among other things, McGinty added, new tracking software is being tested to keep tabs on area drones. What’s more, with revised airspace regulations and new technological options, such as “geofencing” and GPS jamming, future neighbors might find that their shiny new toys literally cannot fly within a mile or two of the airport. Why tear down the next Surfridge, in other words, when you can simply reprogram its airspace?
* * *
LAX is currently embroiled in a multibillion-dollar “modernization” program. When McGinty and I got out of the car to wander on foot through a labyrinth of badge-accessible doors, security checkpoints, and active construction sites, the true scale of the disruption became clear. McGinty compared it to a puzzle. “You’re running an airport and you’re building an airport at the same time,” he said. We stepped around piles of drywall and out of the way of errant forklifts. The oldest terminals are being upgraded; an entire new facility is being built outside the perimeter fence to concentrate car-rental returns; and there is even a seven-story automated “people mover” currently under construction.
An innovative private terminal to be built on the southeastern edge of LAX is set to join the turmoil. The Private Suite at LAX, as it’s known, will be a high-priced VIP facility for travelers who would like—and who can afford—greater anonymity. Whether you’re a movie star or foreign royalty, the Private Suite is where you can sip your champagne (and drop off your luggage) isolated from the gaze of both fellow travelers and L.A. paparazzi.
The Private Suite is the brainchild of security consultant Gavin de Becker. The silver-haired de Becker is the author of, among other things, The Gift of Fear, a 1997 book that advocates respecting your instinctive reactions to dangerous situations and people in order to protect yourself from impending violence. Despite his focus on security, and with a well-known expertise in protecting clients from assassination, de Becker is a critic of what he calls “Fort Apache architecture,” the aggressively unfriendly, even anti-civic design tendencies that result in foreboding expressions of defensiveness and paranoia. Security, he believes, can be achieved through more subtle and aesthetic means.
As anyone who has ever watched TMZ or clicked on a YouTube video of a celebrity arriving at LAX has seen, it is obvious that the airport, as it currently exists, has a celebrity problem. This is not just an issue for the over-inflated egos of VIP travelers, however; it is an irritation for other, less gilded flyers, and it can be an enormous headache for airport-security teams. Massive crowds of closely packed, emotionally agitated fans and photographers do not always make for safe public gatherings. The Private Suite at LAX aims to sidestep all this by literally removing VIP travelers from the equation.
The Private Suite is located three miles away from the main terminals, although it is still within the confines of the airfield. Accessed via the Imperial Freeway, it poses almost no traffic concerns and benefits from a location that makes paparazzi photography—not to mention sniper fire—effectively impossible. Travelers need not be flying a private aircraft to use the new terminal; they can be escorted from the security and comfort of their suite, directly to a commercial jet. Even their TSA inspection will take place in private. De Becker was inspired, at least in part, by the Windsor Lounge at London’s Heathrow Airport, another VIP terminal where the cost of access currently hovers around $4,000 per person per flight. Many of de Becker’s existing clients already use the Windsor Suite, he explained to me, and it seemed like a no-brainer to try something similar in Los Angeles.
In 20 years’ time, it could very well be that LAX has a stronger international-intelligence game than many U.S. allies.
I met with de Becker in a secure office complex whose location I agreed not to reveal; de Becker was physically off-site that day, however, so we spoke through an encrypted video link. The interiors are soundproofed and include a shooting gallery, an entire airplane fuselage used for live training exercises, and an architectural mockup of the future Private Suite at LAX. Signed photos from film stars and U.S. presidents, thanking de Becker for his service, line the walls. The sign outside the complex is deliberately misleading; you could walk past de Becker’s false-front office every day and never guess that it is a laboratory for, among other things, preventing assassinations.
“LAX is arguably the number-one terrorist target in the United States,” de Becker began, “and certainly the number-one aviation target.” By removing what de Becker calls “high-risk, high-profile travelers” from the existing gates and terminals, a significant additional target of potential violence and a substantial source of logistical disruption can be eliminated at a stroke. As I sat near a window overlooking a soundproof room stocked with high-power rifles and a bullet-riddled SUV, de Becker was keen to emphasize to me that his project is not intended as a luxury experience for the 1 percent. Its aim is to provide a vital security service for everyone who flies into and out of LAX. “Our mission is to prevent commotion,” de Becker said. “We want to peel those travelers off the main terminal and make it a far easier intelligence and security job to manage.”
Of course, one side effect of the Private Suite is that it will concentrate high-value targets—from pop bands to hedge-fund managers—in one location, raising the possibility of future spectacular attacks; but, De Becker emphasized, the Private Suite is not open to public visitation or even to public view. This fact alone offers an immediate buffer, an example of what he calls “white space,” the protective quarantine something needs in order to maintain operational safety.
It is also a project that LAX is uniquely qualified to host, de Becker added. Precisely because of the airport’s precarious mix of high-risk travelers, its valuable global cargo, its constricted urban location, and its tens of millions of annual users, LAX is in an ideal position to innovate—because it must.
As LAX goes, in other words, so go other airports around the world—at least that’s what de Becker hopes, as the Private Suite has yet to open for business. When it does launch in 2017, however, its effect on security will be instantaneous, as the new terminal promises to drastically rearrange the airport’s internal dynamics, like a cell splitting in two. As McGinty pointed out to me, “The environment always shapes the response”—and this is never more true than when the environment itself is constantly shifting.
* * *
LAWA police headquarters is located in an unremarkable gated complex, tucked behind a cinderblock wall on a dead-end street off Sepulveda Boulevard. The famously close approach of passenger jets supplies a near-continuous roar, reminding everyone of what they’re there to protect. This is where McGinty comes to work each day. (Sosa spends most of her time at the Joint Regional Intelligence Center, a straight shot east on the freeway in Norwalk.)
McGinty leads me through a series of badge-accessible doors into a low-ceilinged room filled with cubicles. There are model airplanes and spare security uniforms, as well as a small stack of orange spiral-bound notebooks on one of McGinty’s bookshelves. I asked about them.
He pulled a few down from the shelf to show me. “My wife is Japanese,” he explained. Every once in a while, the two of them will go to the downtown branch of Kinokuniya, the stationery and literature megastore roughly equivalent to a Japanese Barnes & Noble, where McGinty likes to buy a particular brand of notebook. Falling back on old habits from his days with the D.C. police, he said, he uses these to keep notes and track larger research questions for every day on the job.
McGinty has clearly held onto his detective roots: In one of his desk drawers was a binder stuffed with old case files—or “case jackets,” in police parlance—that he had brought with him from D.C. These included page after page of former investigations, including gang shootings and serial killers. McGinty also worked internal affairs, he said, where he served briefly in a police corruption unit, pursuing cops who, among other things, had been openly profiting from a prostitution ring.
In one sense, LAX is a giant speculative crime scene whose diffuse borders and international suspects require more than just foot patrols and CCTV. Elsewhere on his desk were guides to the science of crowd control, an encyclopedia of airport operations, even a pamphlet or two about extremist networks, including one on how to recognize and interpret white-nationalist tattoos.
While McGinty cagily avoided any questions about specific threats he and Sosa might currently be investigating, we touched upon everything from stray shoulder-fired missiles and South American terrorist groups to disgruntled cargo employees and the latest issue of the ISIS magazine Rumiyah. To protect LAX, he said, you have to know about all of this—riots and lone-wolf terrorists, car bombs and foreign dignitaries. It was about asking the right research questions and understanding the true global context for what might appear, at first, to be a local event.
Greg Lindsay is coauthor of the 2011 book Aerotropolis: The Way We’ll Live Next, written with University of North Carolina business consultant John Kasarda. Seen through Lindsay’s eyes, aviation logistics takes on near-psychedelic dimensions. When someone looks at a map of the world, he or she might take in superficial details, like the outlines of nation-states, but Lindsay sees tax-free supply-chain hubs, special economic zones, and transnational land deals. Individual airports, he pointed out, are complexly knit together through global-service contracts and preferred air routes that often defy straightforward geopolitical explanations. What’s more, the value of consumer goods that pass through the LAX-to-Tokyo or LAX-to-Shanghai air corridors often exceeds the GDPs of many nation-states—yet those invisible routes, despite their outsize economic influence, don’t show up on world maps.
The fact that an airport such as LAX would begin to realize its true power and economic stature in the world is not at all surprising for Lindsay—nor, of course, is it news to anyone that airports are increasingly terrorist targets. A piece of infrastructure turning into its own intelligence-gathering apparatus, Lindsay suggested, is just “the natural trickle-down effect of when, after 9/11, the NYPD expanded its own intelligence efforts, deciding that the FBI, CIA, and Homeland Security were simply not good enough. They had to project their own presence.” More to the point, they realized, like LAX, just how much there was to protect—and how badly other people wanted to destroy it.
Today’s threats, whether terrorist or merely criminal, are increasingly networked and dispersed; it only makes sense that an institution’s response to them must take a similar form. It might sound like science fiction, but, in 20 years’ time, it could very well be that LAX has a stronger international-intelligence game than many U.S. allies. LAX field agents could be embedded overseas, cultivating informants, sussing out impending threats. It will be an era of infrastructural intelligence, when airfields, bridges, ports, and tunnels have, in effect, their own internal versions of the CIA—and LAX will be there first.
Indeed, the LAX model of in-house analysts—such as McGinty and Sosa—working with classified intelligence material, has already become an objective elsewhere. Other airports are watching. Christian Samlaska, the senior manager of aviation security at the Port of Seattle, is currently working on a similar initiative, he told me. “This is something we want to adopt,” he said. Samlaska went on to explain that SeaTac—the Seattle-Tacoma International Airport—is putting substantial resources into full employee screening in order to combat the ominous possibility of an insider threat. The next wave of attacks could very well come from radicalized workers with security access.
“Our new norm is the unknown,” said McGuire, the LAWA official who hired McGinty and Sosa, as she and I wrapped up our conversation. McGuire is worried that the calculus for anticipating certain kinds of attacks could change, and she feels an urgency for airport intelligence to keep up. “Our new norm is: What’s next?” McGuire added after a pause. “And that’s how it shouldn’t be.”
Missouri’s new Branson Airport struggling to keep fliers
By Thomas Gounley
The Springfield (Mo.) News-Leader
SPRINGFIELD, Mo. — For the third straight year, the number of passengers flying out of Branson Airport declined in 2016.
As of the end of October, 5,149 people had boarded a plane at the airport in 2016 — a drop of 63.5% compared to the same 10-month stretch in 2015. Depending on the month, more than a quarter to almost half of airplane seats left the facility unoccupied.
The privately owned and operated Branson Airport has been challenged by the consolidation of the airline industry, which has resulted in reduced competition among airlines and decisions by the largest carriers to focus on more profitable routes.
The 2016 decline in enplanements, an industry term for boarding passengers, furthers declines Branson has experienced in recent years.
The airport opened in 2009 and peaked in 2013 at 113,584 enplanements for the year. In 2014, however, Branson’s two mainline carriers — Southwest Airlines and Frontier Airlines — pulled out of the market. The airport ended the year with just shy of 60,000 enplanements.
The mainline carriers have been replaced by public charter flights, offered in the hope that they will demonstrate a demand for air service from Branson. In 2015, enplanements dropped to 15,732, a year-over-year decline of 73.6%.
July was the busiest month at Branson Airport in 2016, with 1,332 enplanements, compared to 3,303 in 2015. February, March and April were the slowest — no passengers boarded a plane during those months.
Branson Airport’s commercial service ran through late November this year, but figures pertaining to the month were not available as of press time. Even stellar November figures would leave the airport well short of its 2015 performance in terms of passenger count.
The airport does not itself release the statistics, but they are included in publicly posted reports issued to bondholders. The reports indicate that Branson Airport LLC had a net loss of about $11 million through the first three quarters of 2016.
Branson had nonstop service to four cities in 2016.
Buzz Airways operated flights under the Branson AirExpress name to New Orleans and Austin four times a week between late May and mid-August. Elite Airways, meanwhile, offered flights to Denver and Houston starting in mid-July.
When the Elite Airways service was announced, it was billed as daily service, and Branson Airport Executive Director Jeff Bourk told the News-Leader that, while the schedule was only set through late November, he hoped the flights would continue year-round.
The flights, however, ceased for the year in late November. Bourk said this month they had been offered on a daily basis for a period, and three or five times a week during other parts of the schedule. Bourk said it was challenging to get the data to justify continuing service through the winter given that the service had only been offered for four months.
Bourk said the airport is currently working on its 2017 offerings, with the goal of expanding service.
Earlier this month, the Taney County Partnership — a private-public group that focuses on economic development — said in a news release that a recent economic impact study conducted by Arizona State University found that Branson Airport had a total economic impact of $454.8 million between 2010 and 2015, and that the fiscal impacts from tax collections totaled $14.5 million.
The study itself, which was commissioned by the Branson/Lakes Area Chamber of Commerce and Branson Convention and Visitors Bureau, was not released. The partnership said in the release that the study found the airport supported 688 jobs annually on average, in terms of both jobs at the airport and jobs in the community supported by visitors who arrived by air. The release said the airport’s economic impacts peaked in 2013 — the same year the airport saw the greatest number of passengers — and then declined in 2014 and 2015.
“The key to restoring economic impact from the airport on the local economy is to grow air service,” Bourk said in the release.
The partnership said in the release that the Taney County Partnership and the Air Service Development Committee have worked to spur both public sector and private sector investment in a fund designed to return Branson Airport service to key markets. The fund includes $1 million from the public sector, specifically from Taney County, the city of Hollister and the Taney County Enhancement District. The level of private-sector investment was not disclosed, but was said to be “significant.”
Springfield-Branson National Airport on track for all-time highs
While Branson Airport saw declines in 2016, its neighbor an hour to the north is expecting a record year.
Through the end of November, Springfield-Branson National Airport had 438,007 enplanements, up about 3.9% compared to the same period in 2015. On average, flights this year have been 79.7% full, according to numbers provided by an airport spokesman.
When talking with the public, the airport generally focuses on total passengers, which includes enplanements and deplanements. Spokesman Kent Boyd said he expects to finish 2016 with total passengers up about 4% over the 2015 record of 913,395.
Springfield-Branson is served by four airlines: Allegiant Air, American Airlines, Delta Air Lines and United Airlines. Combined, those carriers provide non-stop flights from Springfield to Chicago O’Hare, Dallas/Fort Worth, Atlanta, Denver, Charlotte, Los Angeles, Phoenix, Las Vegas, St. Petersburg (Fla.), Orlando Sanford and Punta Gorda (Fla.).