WKTV (Kentwood/Wyoming): Ford airport leader welcomes Sen. Peters’ introduction of bill to fund airport security

Michigan’s Democratic U.S. Sen. Gary Peters last week joined with Republican Sen. Cory Gardner of Colorado to introduce bipartisan legislation to “increase safety and security for airport passengers and visitors outside of Transportation Security Administration (TSA) screened areas,” according to supplied material.

The Secure Airport Public Spaces Act allows airports to use existing Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) funds to update their security infrastructure to better protect public areas, including pick up and drop off areas, as well as baggage claim areas.

High profile attacks at Fort Lauderdale (Fla.) Airport and Bishop International Airport in Flint last year demonstrated the vulnerabilities of unsecured public areas at airports, according to the statement.

Locally, leadership at the Gerald R. Ford International Airport said they both have high hope that the legislation will be approved and also will eventually be able to take advantage of the funding use changes.

“We love the fact that the senators, our own Sen. Peters, stepped up to be forward thinking to address security issues,” James R. Gill, President and CEO of the Gerald R. Ford International Airport Authority, said to WKTV. “Certainly in light of the fact that this (federal action) is security related, we are likely to see support from all sides on that, not only political but from our partner airlines. Security and safety are always our collective Number 1 priority.”

And safety and security is also a priority for Sen. Peters.

“Millions of Americans travel through our nation’s airports every day, and we need to protect travelers and visitors from potential security threats in every part of the airport,” Sen. Peters said May 16, in supplied material. “In recent years, we’ve seen a rising number of attacks that take place outside of TSA-screened areas. This bipartisan, commonsense legislation will give airports flexibility to address security vulnerabilities in public areas and safeguard passengers, visitors and staff.”

The submitted bill, if passed, would allow airports to spend Passenger Facility Charge (PFC) dollars they have already collected on airport infrastructure projects that increase security. Under the bill, PFC funding could be used for projects to enhance perimeter security by adding fencing or barricades, or improve responses to active shooter threats by installing active shooter location technology and ballistic protective podiums that shield officers and store rifles to help counter an attack.

And, while Gill said the possible changes in funds-use would not have an immediate impact on the Ford Airport, it would be very valuable down the road.

“The (PFC) funds that we collect right now are committed out through somewhere around 2023, 2024. Those funds were used to fund the construction of the big runway … They were used for a number of public improvements in the airport,” Gill said. “So we do not have an immediate availability. What this piece of legislation would allow is expanded use of the existing availability funds.

“We do not see a short term ability to expand that use but it will be great to have that tool in our tool box. … So as we find opportunities to take advantage of that funding, when it is freed up, we will certainly take advantage of that.”

The bill also allows airports to use Airport Improvement Program (AIP) funds on state of the art surveillance cameras in public areas such as baggage claims or pick up and drop off areas. Currently, AIP funds are limited to the installation of closed-circuit television inside of secure, TSA-screened areas of an airport.

“Security really begins beyond the front door for us,” Gill said. “But once you are on the airport (grounds) — there are a lot of things we are unable to talk about — but it begins with the perimeter of the airport, fencing, our (airport) police officers do a great job of ensuring safety. … In today’s day and time, we are always have to be more cognizant of security and safety. … any ability to push that is going to be great.”

By:  K.D. Norris
Source: WKTV (Kentwood/Wyoming)