On guard: Ramping up security at small airports


Rick Cloutier, aviation director for the City of Concord. Photo by Marty Price

By Marty Price. From the small grass fields that private pilots use to international airports like Charlotte Douglas, security needs vary with size and location. Is the airport near a heavily populated area, major transportation hub, nuclear facility or schools?  Size, use and traffic are some of the other considerations that TSA officials consider to determine the security needs for airports.

“You see the same people over and over again, so anything out of the ordinary is easy to spot,” says Thomas Hazel, president of the Statesville Flying Service, the fixed base operator at Statesville Regional Airport.

Safety measures are a mixed bag at local airports, but even the smallest airports benefit from the kind of hands-on, local experience that Transportation Safety Administration officers might not have at the largest airports.

At the private grass fields, security is controlled by the property owner and pilots generally fly by the Visual Flight Rules, which require them to see far enough to avoid other air traffic.

Larger uncontrolled air fields, which are used for general aviation of private and corporate aircraft, have more security as the planes are much larger.

Hazel said that the Statesville airport is fenced and patrolled by the Statesville Police Department and Iredell County Sheriff. Still, there is no security on site.

The TSA dictates the procedures small airports must follow.

Nevertheless, Hazel feels being safe is easier there than at a larger airport because, “most of the people are repeat customers” or are based at the airport.

“So many people who are at these small airports rely on it for their livelihood, they want to protect that livelihood, so if they see anything going on that shouldn’t be, they will report it,” Hazel said.

The Concord Regional Airport is in the same classification as Charlotte Douglass International, with the same security concerns and needs.  Also open 24 hours a day, Concord requires radio contact to land at their airport.

The tower is manned by two FAA certified contract air traffic controllers from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m., seven days a week. When the controllers are not present pilots must still have radio contact with the other planes in the area in order to land or take off.

The airport began as a general aviation airport in 1994, serving many of the NASCAR teams. Concord added the tower in 1998 and became a certified commercial aviation airport in December of 2013 when Allegiant Air began low-cost flights to Florida.

The airport is manned as a separate Concord City police district, with city firefighters and rescue personnel on site.  The airport leases hangar space to 189 aircraft, ranging from single engine, two-seaters to 50 passenger corporate jets, that are based there. With 60,000 annual operations—both takeoffs and landings are considered an operation—the airport sees about 250 operations a day.

Rick Cloutier, aviation director for the City of Concord, said the airport is “totally” secure.

“It is fenced in with limited access to only people who are supposed to be here,” he explained.

Each employee is subjected to an extensive TSA criminal background check, which is repeated every two years.

But “any terrorist activity could change the make-up of aviation as a whole and we need to be aware of that as we grow,” Cloutier said. Passenger traffic has doubled in the space of one year.

With a mix of corporate, private and commercial flights, CRA is a public use airport and any pilot can land or take off on the 7,400 foot runway. The only flights that have TSA inspectors are the commercial flights for Allegiant Air. Passengers for those flights are screened using the same methods at major airports.

Scanners, metal detectors and inspectors check each passenger and their baggage before boarding.  “By the end of the year we are projected to have flown 100,000 passengers in 2015,” said Cloutier. That is a 100 percent increase from the 50,000 passengers served in 2014, without a single incident,” he said.

Security at the airport is a joint effort “which includes the airport, Concord police department, the TSA and other federal agencies that work together to ensure the security efforts match the threat level at that time,” said Cloutier.

“There are different programs in place to increase security and screening to meet the threat level,” he said.

The city is currently working on a new terminal that will replace the current temporary one, a remodeled hangar, which should be completed by July of next year.

The $13.5 million dollar project, paid for by funds from the FAA and CRA, will have a 30,000 square foot terminal with a 700 space parking deck for passengers taking the commercial flights.  The new terminal being built by KMD Construction with Talbert, Bright and Ellington acting as the engineering consultants, will have covered, pull-up parking so that jets can load and unload passengers.


No comments yet.

Post a Comment