Airport News

Title: New Show Goes Behind The Scenes At Miami Airport
October 1, 2012
Fox News

Abstract: The Travel Channel has spent years telling stories about where people go, but now they’re doing a show on how people get there.

‘‘Airport 24/7: Miami’’  offers viewers a behind-the-scenes look at what it takes to move more than 100,000 travelers each day through Miami International Airport.

‘‘We host a Super Bowl every day at MIA,’’ security director Lauren Stover said, comparing the number of travelers to attendance at the championship football game.

With thousands of employees running what can easily be compared to a small city, the show follows workers as they deal with terrorist threats, intercept drug smugglers, attend to medical emergencies, repair aircraft and secure an Air Force One landing, all the while trying to get the passengers to their flights and the planes in the sky on time.

‘‘This is one of many ways in which Travel Channel is trying to give viewers a different look at all aspects of travel,’’ network general manager Andy Singer said. ‘‘And we think the Miami International Airport is a fascinating way to do that.’’

The first two episodes of the show premier back-to-back at 9 p.m. Tuesday.

The idea for the show started with 2C Media owner Chris Sloan, who said he’s had a passion for commercial aviation since he was a child. His longtime hobby has been collecting photos and memorabilia from airports around the world. He’s even been maintaining a website about airports and airlines — — for nearly a decade.

‘‘I travel a lot,’’ Sloan said. ‘‘And I felt that this was a world that was much maligned.’’

Sloan said it was challenging to convince airport officials he wasn’t trying to do some kind of expose or smear job. And once MIA agreed to the show, they still had to convince multiple airlines and government agencies to give them access, Sloan said. But their patience and perseverance appeared to pay off.

‘‘Whenever you go to an airport, there are always signs that say, ‘Staff Only,’ ‘Do Not Enter,’ ‘Prohibited Area,’ ‘Alarm Will Go Off,'’’ Sloan said. ‘‘But we actually go to all those places, and that’s unique.’’

Ken Pyatt, MIA’s deputy director of operations, said he was surprised by how dramatic the show turned out to be. He said he thought the show would be more matter-of-fact in its presentation of different areas of the airport. Instead, camera crews spent several months earlier this year following employees around, showing rather than telling the types of challenges workers face on a regular basis.

‘‘I think the editing of the show is amazing,’’ Pyatt said. ‘‘How they were able to put these little vignettes together each show and actually tell four or five stories.’’

Pyatt said he particularly enjoyed a later episode that deals with Air Force One landing in Miami the same day that the budget airline Interjet is scheduled to hold an event celebrating its inaugural flight between Miami and Mexico City. The Interjet event, with celebrities and local officials set to attend, had been scheduled at least month in advance, Pyatt said. But when the president comes to town, everything else becomes secondary to that.

‘‘The best laid plans have to often be abandoned or shrunk by something that has more precedence, and we deal in that operational mode 24/7,’’ Pyatt said. ‘‘You can only prepare so much for what goes on, but to give the public a seamless experience, it really requires people to go above and beyond.’’

Improving that seamless experience for travelers has been major priority at MIA over the past few years. The airport had developed a reputation for bad customer service, and a major push was made to turn that around. Part of that push was bringing trainers from the Disney Institute to Miami to teach around 400 front-line staff, including executives, the Disney way of doing things.

‘‘That was the beginning of a lot of energy and change,’’ said Dickie Davis, who oversees customer service at MIA.

Between the Disney training and other changes, Davis said she’s proud of the progress she’s seen at the airport. And while not directly related, Davis acknowledged that improvements at MIA likely helped the show’s producers gain access to the airport.

‘‘It’s easier to let people come into your house when you've just redecorated,’’ Davis said. ‘‘And we've never looked better.’’

If there’s one thing that’s still more important than customer service at MIA, it would be security. With about 40 million passengers moving through the airport every year, Stover — MIA’s security director — said Miami is a ‘‘Category X’’ airport, meaning it’s a prime target for a terrorist attack.

Airport security is far more than the baggage screeners and officers that passengers see, Stover said. The key to effective security is having multiple layers so that if someone gets by one layer, they'll be caught by the next, she said.

Six years ago, MIA began making its 40,000 civilian employees part of the security program. Starting with a group of about 70 janitors, MIA has given its civilian employees behavioral recognition training, which helps identify suspicious behavior. Since then, civilian employees have made about 3,000 reports, dozens of which have been turned over to the FBI and immigration officials.

‘‘If you’re going to get an airport ID, then I expect you to have your eyes all around and be vigilant in what you’re doing,’’ Stover said.

Working with a film crew was challenging, Stover said, because security workers still had to do their jobs and couldn’t necessarily wait for the cameras.

‘‘They had to get it,’’ Stover said. ‘‘Because if they didn’t capture it, I certainly wasn’t going to tell the knucklehead that came to the checkpoint with a loaded firearm to turn around, walk out and come back in again so we could film them. So they had to get it right the first time.’’

Despite any temporary inconvenience, Stover said she hopes the show will let travelers know how much work goes into getting them safely to wear they need to go.

‘‘Miami has had its fair share of criticism,’’ Stover said, ‘‘and we felt it was important to show the real side of MIA’’ (Fox News, 2012).

Title: Thousands Of LAX Workers Set For Walkout On Thanksgiving Eve
November 16, 2012

Employees at Los Angeles International Airport were considering plans Friday to walk off the job ahead on what is traditionally the busiest traveling day of the year.

A coalition of Southland labor and community leaders are calling for the protest of alleged violations by LAX contractor Aviation Safeguards (AVSG) after breaking their contract with the airport earlier this year.

Andrew Gross-Gaitan, the director of the Southern California Airports Division of SEIU, told KNX 1070 NEWSRADIO that AVSG left more than 400 LAX workers without affordable family health care when it failed to comply with the city’s Living Wage Ordinance.

“When people’s lives are on the line, their family members are on the line, they’re not going to be able to enjoy their Thanksgiving,” said Gross-Gaitan. “This is really a critical moment for thousands of workers.”

As many as 1,000 airport workers and union supporters are expected to march on Century Boulevard just as an estimated 1.8 million passengers are expected to travel through LAX over the holiday weekend.

In March, SEIU workers staged a protest outside the Tom Bradley International Terminal, but despite some congestion, passengers were not prevented from entering the building.

This time, however, Gross-Gaitan would not dismiss the potential for severe disruptions to airport operations during the protest.

“It’s entirely possible there will be significant travel delays,” he said (CBS LA, 2012).

Title: JFK Strike Authorized Amid Holiday Travel
December 14, 2012

Abstract: Some security guards at John F. Kennedy International Airport have voted to go on strike next week if their employer doesn't respond to their concerns over issues including training and equipment.

Security worker Prince Jackson said about 100 employees of Air Serv Corp. voted Thursday to authorize a strike for Dec. 20. The employees are not unionized but are being supported by 32BJ of the Service Employees International Union.

Another group of workers, for Global Elite Group Inc., is scheduled to hold a vote on Friday.

The workers handle security issues such as directing traffic in front of the terminals at the airport, one of the nation's busiest, and making sure non-passenger areas including the tarmacs are secure.

Jackson said the guards had tried to reach out to their employers about their issues, asking for more extensive training and better equipment including radios and outer gear such as proper winter coats, but their situation hadn't changed.

Avoiding a strike, he said, "would take them coming to the table to address our concerns, to let us know that they care about us and would like to sit down and talk to us."

In a statement, Air Serv, which provides services to commercial passenger and freight airlines, said it had just learned of the concerns this week and was reviewing them.

"We value employees' input on matters of concern to them," the Atlanta-based company said. "Accordingly, we will be speaking with employees on these matters in the days and weeks to come."

Global Elite, a worldwide security company, blamed the union for "false statements and allegations" and not its employees, who it said "have always been our most valuable asset."

The company, based in Garden City, said that "every level of management is in constant dialogue with our trained and professional field staff" and that "all the necessary resources" are provided.

Union spokeswoman Tanya Tuzman said Global's employees had a history of trying to take their concerns to their employer and "for the company to deny the veracity of their workers' complaints just points to the lengths they would go to” (NBC 4 NY, 2012).

Title: TSA Announces Biggest Loosening Of Security Since 9/11
March 6, 2013

Abstract: While TSA continues to trash water bottles and confiscate lotions, the agency is now allowing air passengers to bring pocketknives, golf clubs and hockey sticks onto their flights – all of which could be used as deadly weapons.

“This policy was designed to make the lives of TSA staff easier, but not make flights safer,” Stacy Martin, president of the Transportation Workers Union, said in a statement. “While we agree that a passenger wielding a small knife or swinging a golf club or hockey stick poses less of a threat to the pilot locked in the cockpit, these are real threats to passengers and flight attendants in the passenger cabin.”

The policy changes, which were made to conform to international rules and shorten the amount of time checkpoint officials spend confiscating items, take effect April 25, TSA Administrator John Pistole announced Wednesday. Knives with retractable blades shorter than 2.36 inches (6 cm) will be permitted in carry-on baggage. Sports equipment like lacrosse sticks, ski poles and golf clubs will also be allowed in the passenger cabin.

“The idea that we have to look for, to find and then somehow resolve whatever that prohibited item is -- that takes time and effort,” Pistole said at an aviation security conference in New York. “That may detract us from that item that could lead to a catastrophic failure on an aircraft.”

But labor unions representing flight attendants are outraged at the new policy and claim that the changes will simply put more people in danger.

“We believe that these proposed changes will further endanger the lives of all flight attendants and the passengers we work so hard to keep safe and secure,” the Flight Attendants Union Coalition said in a statement, describing the TSA decision as “poor and shortsighted”.

The decision marks the largest loosening of TSA travel restrictions since the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. Passengers interviewed by AP largely agreed with the new policy, claiming that almost anything – including a sharpened credit card – could be turned into a weapon anyway.

There are a lot of things you can use on an airplane if you are intent on hurting someone,” John L. Sullivan, an aviation security consultant, told AP. “Security is never 100 percent.”

But TSA told USA Today that security agents will be able to spend more of their time searching for bomb threats, which are more serious, rather than confiscating small pocket knives that passengers too often try to take with them.

“This is part of an overall risk-based security approach, which allows transportation security officers to better focus their efforts on finding higher-threat items such as explosives,” the agency said.

But to flight attendants who lack the same protections as an air pilot, the new policy has instilled concerns about their safety in a cabin where passengers may soon carry knives in their pockets (RT, 2013).

Title: FAA Says 173 Air Traffic Control Towers Will Close On April 7
March 6, 2013

Abstract: The federal government will close 173 air traffic control towers at small- and medium-size airports on April 7 because of forced spending cuts, the Federal Aviation Administration told tower operators Tuesday. It will close another 16 towers on September 30, the end of the fiscal year.

Spenser Dickerson, head of the Contract Tower Association, told CNN that FAA officials gave him the news, capping off a five-day period in which the FAA first told contractors they would close scores of towers, then backtracked on the news.

The FAA said it would consider removing individual towers from the list on a case-by-case basis, if the operators can explain why it is in the national interest to keep them open, Dickerson said.

The news Tuesday, if anything, was worse than previously announced. Last Wednesday, the FAA said it would close 168 towers.

"We're extremely discouraged and disappointed that the FAA is taking this action," Dickerson said. "The rest of the FAA's budget is getting a 5% haircut; the contract towers are getting a 75% cut, because the FAA is cutting 189 of the 251 contract towers."

"It's hard for us to see the fairness in the budget cuts. It seems the contract tower program is taking a high, disproportionate cut. We have serious concerns about the safety, efficiency and loss of jobs in almost 150 communities across the country," he said.

The FAA did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The towers are part of the FAA's contract tower program, in which 251 towers are staffed with contractors instead of FAA employees. Though little-known, contract towers are widely used by the FAA to manage air traffic. Such towers handle approximately 28% of all control tower operations, although the towers being cut account for a little less than 6% of commercial airline operations.

John Cozart, CEO of Robinson Aviation Inc., which staffs contract towers in the South and Southwestern U.S., said the decision was "not unexpected."

"I didn't think they'd resolve it in favor of the contract tower program. I kind of expected that they would continue on their course," he said.

Asked for his reaction, he said, "You're asking a guy who's having to lay off a ton of people because of this."

Tower closures would not necessarily result in airport closures, because some aircraft can land without air traffic control help, and those that need controller help can communicate with more distant FAA facilities. But the contract tower closings will contribute to the workload at other FAA facilities, which simultaneously will be coping with controller furloughs.

A 2011 report by the Department of Transportation's Office of Inspector General said contract towers cost on average $537,000 a year to operate, compared with $2 million for comparably busy FAA-staffed towers. The lower costs were chiefly from lower staffing and salary levels at contract towers, which had an average of six controllers, while FAA towers had 16. And a typical contract controller near Tampa, Florida, received a base pay of $56,000 per year, compared with a base pay ranging from $63,000 to $85,000 a year for an FAA controller in Sarasota, Florida, the study said.

Dickerson said contract towers are carrying the brunt of the cuts, despite having comparable safety records and being more cost efficient.

But the forced spending cuts, known as the sequestration, are also affecting FAA staff. Most of the agency's 47,000 workers, including its 14,700 controllers, have been told to expect one or two furlough days every two-week pay period. And 49 FAA-staffed towers are on the list of those facing possible closure (CNN, 2013).