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Airport Policy and Security Newsletter #75

Secondary barriers more cost-effective than air marshals, EU airlines protest high speed rail subsidies, TSA checked-luggage screening fiasco

Robert Poole
January 10, 2012

In this issue:

New Analysis Compares Cost-Effectiveness of Cockpit Security Measures

For a number of years, this newsletter has lauded the post-9/11 mandate for strengthened cockpit doors as the most cost-effective anti-hijacking measure the TSA has imposed. I have also questioned the cost-effectiveness of the Federal Air Marshal (FAM) program which puts armed guards in first-class seats on a single-digit percentage of all flights. The strengthened doors were a modest, one-time capital cost to protect all airliners, whereas the FAMs protect only a handful of flights at an ongoing operating cost of $1.2 billion per year (paid for by airline and passenger taxes).

By contrast, pilot organizations have stressed two other programs as cost-effective measures. One is the Federal Flight Deck Officer (FFDO) program, which allows pilots who undergo special training to bring a hand gun on board to defend the cockpit. Here again, there is a one-time training cost but no ongoing operating cost. And there are far more armed pilots than there are FAMs. The other is installed physical secondary barriers (IPSBs)—a device that can be extended across the aisle to block passage from the front passenger cabin to the forward lavatory/galley area for those times when the cockpit door must be opened during flight.

How cost-effective are FFDOs and IPSBs? A new analysis by Mark Stewart (University of Newcastle) and John Mueller (Ohio State University), titled “Cost-Benefit Analysis of Aviation Security,” seeks to provide quantitative answers. (http://hdl.handle.net/1959.13/923473)

Stewart and Mueller published a much-cited analysis in 2008, comparing the estimated cost per life saved for FAMS and strengthened cockpit doors, showing the poor cost-effectiveness of the former. In this new paper, they acknowledge that their former approach was incomplete, in that it did not include costs other than lives—infrastructure destruction, business disruption, and other economic losses. Their more recent approach is to estimate the attack probability that would have to occur in order for a security measure to have overall benefits greater than its costs. Their 2011 assessment of body-scanners found that the attack probability would need to be higher than 160 to 330% per year (1.6 to 3.3 attacks of 9/11 severity annually) in order for such scanners to be worth using.

In the new paper, they use a slightly different methodology, due to lack of enough data to do a probabilistic analysis. Instead, they do an expected-value cost-benefit analysis using a range of single-point estimates of key parameters. The basic task is still to estimate the yearly probability of an otherwise successful attack costing $X billion that justifies a given security expenditure. They find that a secondary physical barrier alone, at an annualized cost of $13.5 million, is cost effective if the attack probability of at least 0.5% per year—or at least one such attack every 200 years. The FFDO program is cost-effective if the attack probability is at least 2.8% per year. But FAMs would be cost-effective only if the attack probability is a whopping 400% per year (i.e., four 9/11-type attacks per year). They re-do the calculation using a range of attack-loss estimates and risk-reduction assumptions (the benefit of each measure). Finally, they test a combination that includes the secondary barrier, a tripling of FFDOs, and reducing FAMs to 25% of the current level. The additional risk reduction from this combination, compared with secondary barriers only, is marginal, while the cost soars from $13.5 million per year to $357.5 million a year.

This kind of serious quantitative analysis is what TSA and its parent agency, Homeland Security, ought to be doing. But there is no evidence that they are, given their continued spending on the costly, ineffective programs such as Federal Air Marshals and Behavior Detection Officers. Meanwhile, United Airlines in 2004—alone among major carriers—deployed secondary barriers on its entire jetliner fleet. Airbus and Boeing have designed secondary barriers as options on their newest aircraft. I hope the Air Line Pilots Association and other pilot organizations will continue to press for fleetwide implementation of these barriers. And it’s high time the airlines started lobbying to end the security theater of FAMs.

European Airlines Protest Subsidies to High-Speed Rail

For the past decade, European transport policy has explicitly favored “modal shift” from airlines and highways to rail. This policy was set forth in the 2001 EU White Paper, “European Transport Policy for 2010: Time to Decide,” and has been reinforced by the 2011 European Commission White Paper on the future of transport in Europe. The projected costs of 30 Trans-European Transport Networks projects total €319 for high-speed rail, €30 billion for other railroad projects, €29 billion for motorways, and a mere €1.34 billion for aviation infrastructure. Yet the organizations representing airlines in Europe have barely spoken out about these policies—until now.

In mid-November, the European Regions Airline Association (ERA) released a hard-hitting and well-documented report, “Air and Rail: Setting the Record Straight.” Though normally for sale, ERA graciously provided a copy of the report so that I could inform you about it. For details on purchasing a copy, you can contact Kirsty Wishart at ERA, Kirsty.wishart@eraa.org.

The report makes the point, and documents it, that just like in the United States, airlines in Europe pay for their infrastructure costs (air traffic control and airports) via user fees and user taxes—unlike any of the railway systems in Europe. The first table in the report compares the “net contribution of each transport mode” in terms of taxes and user fees for Germany, France, and the U.K. Here is how the numbers work out, on a euros per passenger trip basis:

                       Germany    France         United Kingdom
Aviation                7.5           8.4                   4.6
Highway                0.2          0.35                 0.5
Rail                      -6.2         -7.4                 -2.4

These are the same kinds of numbers produced by the U.S. DOT’s Bureau of Transportation Statistics, showing the net subsidy per passenger trip on those three modes in this country in a December 2004 report. (Incidentally, those numbers caused such a fuss that BTS has never produced them again.)

The report also shows how ineffective the EU’s massive subsidies for rail have been in bringing about the intended mode shifts. For example, between 1995 and 2009, Figure 1 shows that intra-EU air travel’s mode share increased from 6.5% to 8.0%; during the same time period (when many new HSR lines began service), rail’s mode share declined from 6.6% to 6.2%. The figures for passenger travel within France, the HSR leader, show that between 1994 and 2005, rail’s mode share was unchanged at 9% while air travel’s share increased from 8% to 12%.

The response from defenders of the EU mode-shift policy is that environmental considerations mandate such market-distorting policies. The report’s second chapter does a good job of using the academic and policy literature to question rail’s (and especially HSR’s) green-ness. It points out that France’s TGV line from Paris to Lyon required the taking of 21 times more land than required for a typical regional airport. It cites UC Berkeley researchers Chester and Horvath on the large carbon footprint of HSR compared with highways and air travel, on a life-cycle cost basis that takes into account the carbon footprint of constructing highways, airports, and HSR lines. It also points out that the majority of HSR passengers typically come from conventional rail lines, whose lower speeds are far less energy-intensive. And it provides useful cost-benefit comparisons between the huge taxpayer cost of a new HSR line versus the large cost of a new airport runway, paid for by its users, and the relative benefits of each.

There’s a lot more in the report, but you will have to purchase your own copy to discover it, which I recommend. It’s long overdue for airline organizations to protest massive taxpayer subsidies to create competing modes of transport. I hope the ERA report encourages other airline groups to do likewise.

TSA’s Checked Luggage Screening Fiasco


If you’re like most people, you probably think the TSA inspects every piece of checked luggage with a million-dollar high-tech explosives detection system (EDS) machine that can identify a wide range of possible explosive materials, keeping planes from being blown up via bombs in luggage. Unfortunately, the reality is quite different from that rosy picture, as I learned by belatedly reading a complicated GAO report that came out last July. As usual, it has an innocuous-sounding GAO title, “Aviation Security: TSA Has Enhanced Its Explosives Detection Requirements for Checked Baggage, but Additional Screening Actions are Needed.” (GAO-11-740, on the GAO website)

Here is the bad news. Of the 2,297 EDS machines that TSA owns, an undisclosed number were built to detection standards set by the FAA in 1998, three years prior to 9/11. The rest were built to the first detection standards developed by TSA, in 2005. In 2010, TSA revised the detection requirements again, in response to “credible and immediate threats.”  It announced that it would procure 260 new EDS machines based on the 2010 requirements by 2011, to be followed by further such procurements in subsequent years.

However, GAO discovered that after setting the 2005 requirements, the agency did not create a plan or schedule to upgrade its existing (1998-standard) machines, because it first needed to test the false-alarm rates of old and new machines to determine how much additional staffing it would need to resolve alarms with the new ones. But that testing did not start then, because TSA was planning to launch an ambitious EDS research project called Project Newton, which got under way several years later and is still going on. TSA told GAO that it expected to finish the testing regarding the 2005 requirements by March 2011, but it is not clear if that happened. But the endless Project Newton will also be used to develop the specifics of the 2010 detection requirements.

Since TSA is under way on procurement of the first 260 machines under the still hazily defined 2010 detection requirements, those requirements (in response to “immediate” threats, you remember) will now be implemented in two tiers: one will expand the type of explosives that must be detected and the other tier will be based on the results of . . . Project Newton. The non-Newton tier will be implemented in three phases: Level C requirements starting with the current 260-machine procurement, Level B over a number of years, and then Level A, also over a number of years (with no schedule for any of this). Note: GAO gives no clue as to what each level consists of; this information is apparently classified.

And by the way, the main method TSA has used all along to “resolve” alarms from the EDS machines is to swab the bag using an explosives trace detection (ETD) machine. But ETD requirements have never been revised to cope with new types of explosives. Hence, some kind of “additional equipment” will have to be used to resolve alarms when the new EDS machines are deployed. TSA told the GAO researchers that they “have not yet developed new screening protocols or deployed additional equipment that will address the potential gap in screening capability between EDS and ETD if the new EDSs are deployed.”

And when it comes to that 260-machine procurement, GAO concludes that TSA will simply go ahead and buy the machines and upgrade them to the 2010 requirements in phases after they are deployed. Not only that, but “TSA has no plan in place outlining how it will upgrade deployed EDSs to fully meet the 2010 requirements.” Remember that most of these apparently meet only the pre-9/11 detection requirements. TSA also told GAO that they many not upgrade all the current EDS’s to the 2010 requirements because “certain models may not be upgradeable and in other cases, it may ultimately be more cost-effective to replace older EDSs with new machines.” Even the 260 new machines it is procuring now will meet only some of the Level C requirements, and will have to be upgraded multiple times in order to meet the rest of Level C, then Level B, and then Level A. And since TSA does not know the results of Project Newton, “TSA may procure and deploy 260 EDSs that will only be used in airports for a short time before they will need to be upgraded, possibly multiple times, or replaced with new machines.”

I’ve given you only some of the highlights of a report that is both frightening and depressing. This report came out in July, and now it’s January. Doesn’t anyone in Congress read these reports?

No-Engine Taxiing Being Developed by Three Competitors

With airlines concerned about both fuel costs and engine emissions, one recent area of focus has been taxi-out and taxi-in operations, which have always seemed to me to be a kind of overkill—using massively powerful jet engines to taxi at 15-20 mph, with a lot of time spent idling in line. Three different ways of moving aircraft on the ground without the engines on are in the testing phase.

Safran and Honeywell have developed an electric propulsion unit that attaches to the main landing gear. The electricity comes from the plane’s auxiliary power unit (APU), the small gas turbine that can provide on-board power for lighting and air conditioning when the plane is at the gate with engines off. It takes far less fuel for the APU to generate enough electricity to taxi the plane than it does to run the engines. The initial focus is on the Airbus A320NEO, since Safran figures its best market is short-haul service requiring many daily turn-arounds. The system can be retrofitted to current A320s, but no agreement to do that has yet been reached. Safran and Honeywell have also pitched the system to Boeing for possible use on its new 737MAX.

A similar product has been developed by start-up company WheelTug, with support from Israeli airline El Al. Instead of powering the main gear, WheelTug’s electric motors power the nose gear. WheelTug estimates that in most cases, the 300 lbs. weight of the WheelTug motors will be more than offset by the 450 lbs. less fuel the plane will have to carry, thanks to electric-powered taxiing. The WheelTug product is aimed initially at retrofitting into Boeing 737NG aircraft, and El Al has signed a letter of intent to purchase the system for its 737 fleet. WheelTug says it can also be retrofitted into A320s. WheelTug estimates annual fuel savings of $500,000 for a 737, while Safran is estimating $300,000 for its product.

The third competitor is TaxiBot, taking a different approach. Developed by France’s TLD and Israeli Aerospace Industries, it is aimed at aircraft up to the size of a 747. Looking very much like a conventional tug, except lacking a driver’s seat, it wraps around the nose gear and is controlled by the pilot. It was tested extensively last winter with a Lufthansa 747-400 at Frankfurt airport. Fuel savings for a plane as large as a 747 should be impressive per flight, but since these are long-haul aircraft making only one or two flights per day, the annual amount of taxi time is probably far less than a 737 or A320. My only question about TaxiBot is: Who drives it back to the terminal after the plane takes off?

News Notes

TSA Finally Taking Radiation Seriously?
Government Security News reports that the TSA is now seeking vendors to provide a way of measuring the extent of ionizing radiation exposure received by its screeners working adjacent to backscatter X-ray machines. Up till now, there has been no monitoring of the accumulated dosage received by screeners, nor any indication of the extent to which individual machines may be operating outside their nominal radiation levels.

New U.S.-E.U. Agreement on Passenger Data
November saw the finalization of a new agreement on the use of passenger name record (PNR) data between the United States and the European Union. It includes new passenger protections, including the right of passengers to correct errors in data about them and more stringent time limits on data retention. It is subject to approval by the European Parliament and E.U. member governments.

Multilateration for Calgary International
Calgary has become the fifth Canadian airport to implement multilateration. In Calgary’s case, the system (by Saab Sensis) will be used for surface surveillance, keeping track of the location of aircraft and ground vehicles. The largest Canadian airport with such a system is Pierre Elliot Trudeau International in Montreal. Three others are using wide-area multilateration for both air and surface monitoring.

BAA Changes
Under a regulatory mandate to divest one of its two Scottish airports, BAA has put Edinburgh Airport on the market, hoping to complete the transaction by mid-summer. It will retain ownership of Glasgow Airport. BAA’s parent company, Ferrovial, announced in October that it had sold 5.9% of its stake in BAA to Alinda Capital Partners, a New York-based infrastructure investment firm. Ferrovial retains ownership of 49.9% of BAA. In response to the news, BAA’s market value increased to £4.8 billion.

Brazil Airport Auctions in February
Major stakes in three of Brazil’s largest airports will be sold via the Sao Paulo Stock Exchange in February. Guarulhos International in Sao Paulo is the country’s busiest airport, ranked first in both passenger and cargo traffic. Viracopos, in the city of Campinas, is the number 2 cargo airport in the country. And Brasilia’s airport serves the country’s capital city. Estimates are that stakes in the three airports will total $3 billion.

Overview of Airline-Airport Consortiums
The TRB’s Airport Cooperative Research program recently released ACRP Synthesis 31, “Airline and Airport-Airline Consortiums to Manage Terminals and Equipment.” The research team analyzed 14 of the 30 such consortiums in operation at U.S. airports to provide a synthesis of current practice. The report includes six appendices that include sample consortium agreements and annual reports. It is available on the Transportation Research Board website.

Gwinnett County Issues RFP for Briscoe Privatization
The Gwinnett County, GA, Board of Commissioners in December released a new RFP for the long-term lease of its Briscoe Field Airport, under the federal Airport Privatization Pilot Program. Proposals are due February 8th. Infrastructure Management Group is the county’s advisor for the procurement.

Bill Would Prohibit TSA Screener Uniforms and Badges
Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R, TN) has introduced legislation that would prohibit any TSA employee not trained in law enforcement from wearing police-type uniforms or badges. TSA changed screener titles to “Transportation Security Officers” in 2005 and gave them police-type uniforms. And in 2008 the agency added metal badges. Blackburn argues that the badges and uniforms give air travelers a false impression that TSOs are law-enforcement officers, when their only authority extends to protecting airports and aircraft from harm.

Gatwick Airport Implements Runway Pricing
Aviation Intelligence Reporter informs us that under its non-BAA ownership, London’s Gatwick International Airport has implemented a form of runway pricing. With air traffic much lighter during winter months, Gatwick has waived landing charges so as to attract a larger share of London traffic during those months. In summer, when demand is high, runway charges are significantly higher than formerly, to encourage airlines to use larger-capacity planes. That incentive works, since Gatwick now charges a flat rate per aircraft, regardless of size. AIR reports that these changes have led to increased passenger numbers and “substantially” increased revenue. Aviation policy researchers should pay close attention.

Hochtief Selling Its Airport Concessions

Following the acquisition of Hochtief by Spanish infrastructure firm ACS, its Hochtief Concessions unit has put Hochtief AirPort on the market. Public Works Financing reports that the company is in discussions with prospective buyers of the airport concessions, which include significant ownership stakes in Budapest, Tirana, Hamburg, and Athens airports.

Allegiant Boosts Niagara Falls Traffic

Following up on last month’s article on niche airlines and previously underserved airports, Allegiant Airlines has announced significantly increased service from Niagara Falls, NY airport (already served by Direct Air and Spirit Airlines). Allegiant began service from there to St. Petersburg/Clearwater in December will add service to Orlando-Sanford in February. Niagara Falls Airport handled only 2,800 passengers in 2006, but served an estimated 200,000 passengers in 2011. About three-fourths of those are Canadians crossing the border for much less-expensive flights from Niagara Falls and nearby Buffalo.

Quotable Quote

“Most importantly, the TSA and policymakers must publicly acknowledge that it I s impossible to successfully protect every aspect of commercial aviation at all times. Intelligence gaps will occur, watch lists will not always be updated, scanners will fail to detect concealed items, and employees will become corrupt or radicalized. As politically painful as such an admission may be, it is essential to scale back bloated security measures that add significant expense and inconvenience to commercial aviation without materially reducing risk. The TSA’s leadership has begun to take small steps in this direction, such as a current pilot program designed to prescreen travelers to facilitate expedited [airport] screening, but more must be done to ensure that commercial aviation remains both secure and commercially viable.”
--Ben Brandt, “Terrorist Threats to Commercial Aviation: A Contemporary Assessment,” Combating Terrorism Center at West Point, Nov. 30, 2011 (www.ctc.usma.edu/posts/terrorist-threats-to-commercial-aviation-a-contemporary-assessment)


Robert Poole is Searle Freedom Trust Transportation Fellow and Director of Transportation Policy


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