San Jose Int'l Modernizes Technology & Security

Jodi Richards
Published in: 

Technology and security received complete overhauls in the $1.3 billion modernization program at Norman Y. Mineta San Jose International Airport (SJC) the last several years.

Like many airports, SJC had cobbled together passenger screening operations over time. Its system complied with TSA requirements but was not efficient or passenger-friendly, explains Dave Maas, the airport's director for planning and development.

Some checkpoints, in fact, were failing to meet TSA efficiency standards. "They were causing long lines in our ticket lobby and waits that had to be managed," Maas recalls. At peak times, queues in Terminal A backed up into the parking garage. Ticketing and security queues in the same location caused stress and confusion for passengers.

The manual baggage screening system used CTX-5500s. Screening pods built by TSA were located on the aircraft ramp, occupying space that would have otherwise been for aircraft and ground service equipment parking.

Facts & Figures

Project: IT & Security Overhaul

Location: Norman Y. Mineta San Jose (CA) International Airport

Design/Build Contractor: Hensel Phelps

Inline Baggage System Builder: Jervis Webb

Inline Baggage System Cost: $40 million

Funding: TSA grant & American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funds

Maintenance & Operations Contractor: Vanderlande

CTX9800 Provider: Morpho Detection, formerly GE Security

Operational, Passenger Processing & Business Systems: Air-Transport IT Services, Inc.

Vendors Under AirIT: Dell, Samsung, Wyse, IER, Vidtronics & Access

Security System: $60 million

The process was labor-intensive and costly, relates Maas. "The carriers had to add about $1 million a year in extra labor and equipment," he quantifies. Bags were manually double-handled, which increased the risk of injury for both TSA and airline workers. Additionally, carriers had to lengthen "close-out times" for checking bags because it took so long for bags to get through the system.

SJC's recent modernization program, however, has solved these issues and more, says Maas.

Improving security was, in part, about having the right number of TSA officers to run the bag system, Maas explains. With a manual system using 22 machines, it took a tremendous amount of manpower to keep up with bags. The new system uses only eight baggage screening machines, which reduces the TSA staff required to operate the equipment. "It helps on their staffing side and helps us make sure that there is staff and that bag screening happens in a timely way," Maas notes.

Cost of the new automated inline baggage screening system was covered by a $20 million TSA grant and another $20 million from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

According to Maas, TSA suggested using the latest version of bag screening machines - the continuous-feed CTX-9800 - fairly early in the design process. Currently there are only nine CTX-9800s in existence - eight at SJC and one in TSA's test lab in Atlantic City. "We have the most advanced baggage security screening system in the world," says David Vossbrink, SJC's communications director.

Since Terminal A was remodeled, a phased approach was taken to building the new inline system. At the recommendation of design/build contractor Hensel Phelps, the airport expanded the footprint of the building slightly and built the new baggage system right on top of the old system. The strategy was chosen to be cost-effective and to allow use of the new parts while phasing out the old system. "Over time you had this metamorphosis of our old manual system going away and the new system coming online," Maas relates.

As the first airport in the world to have this equipment, Vossbrink notes that SJC has a "tremendous partnership with TSA in the design, operation and funding of the system as well as a tremendous partnership with the carriers on design and operations."

Checkpoint Changes

Passenger screening also received a major overhaul, with eight full-body scanners being deployed to terminals A and B.

New security checkpoints were designed with airport traffic growth and potential changes to TSA operations in mind, notes Maas. Both checkpoints have eight lanes but are expandable to 12 in each terminal.

Terminal A previously had six lanes that were "squeezed and jammed together in sets of three," Vossbrink recalls. "They were not very efficient or comfortable for passengers or TSA staff." The previous lanes would not have been able to accommodate the new technology.

"The common theme is to remain flexible in terms of designs and solutions and to take a just-in-time approach if you can," Maas says. "In other words, don't lock into a specific design too early in your process, because security regulations and TSA requirements are still evolving; the technology they're using is evolving. Airports need to be able to continue to accommodate the latest and greatest that comes in terms of equipment and procedures."

The eight lanes in Terminal A now are spread out farther, providing more space for equipment, staff and passengers. The checkpoint was also designed to provide queued passengers clear views of the airfield and concessions beyond security. "They can see that they're very close to where they want to go and that really brings stress levels down," Vossbrink explains.

A new security camera surveillance system was also part of the modernization. It allows officials more flexibility in aiming cameras and retrieving images at a later date, Maas says.

Overall, about $60 million was invested in the new security system, which Vossbrink categorizes as a"customer service issue" as well. "Security and safety are the top priority for operating the airport, and we think we've done a terrific job of keeping that on the top of the list - coming up with design solutions that look good, work well and are cost-effective to meet that goal for everybody," he comments.

Information Technology

The IT system at SJC received similar attention to detail and also played a critical role in the success of the entire modernization project.

Diane Mack-Williams

Diane Mack-Williams, the airport's director of IT, says that the information technology system was completely overhauled and updated. Because of the age of terminals A and C, everything in those buildings was replaced, Mack-Williams explains. "We have basically rebuilt the IT system from the cable plant up," she notes.

"We've also gone from a landlord perspective to being a service provider," she adds. "When you change that model, it impacts the IT system."

According to Mack-Williams, the modernization project was the perfect opportunity to put in a good backbone cable plant. "This allowed the airport to look at shared use from every single angle," she adds, noting its critical nature. "Everything else is based on that. If you don't build a common infrastructure, then you'll run into roadblocks every step of the way."

SJC held meetings with all of its airlines to understand their requirements and concerns about moving to a shared-use system. Specifically, they wanted to run their own native applications on the airport's network-centric platform, Mack-Williams relates.

Air-Transport IT Services, Inc. (AirIT) deployed its Extended Airline System Environment (EASE), which allows any airline to function in its own operating environment over the airport's network. Shared-use equipment includes everything at the gates, ticket counters and 90 common-use self-service kiosks throughout SJC.

Shared use allows the airport "tremendous flexibility with operations," says Vossbrink. "It allows us to build less airport because we have more productive use of the gates." Previously, SJC had 32 aircraft gates. Upon completion of the program, the airport will have 28. "We're able to have the same capacity that is much more efficient and much more comfortable with fewer gates because of shared use," Vossbrink states. Additional gates, he adds, would have tacked on hundreds of millions of dollars to the project.

Construction Benefit

AirIT's executive vice president and chief operating officer, Chris Keller, says that shared use saved SJC millions in construction costs by providing the flexibility to move carriers as needed, rather than building a temporary facility during the modernization project.

In Keller's assessment, the SJC project has been one of AirIT's biggest challenges and the result is one of its biggest successes. As the single-source provider, AirIT controlled the project's implementation and products. This, he notes, eliminated the typical coordination and integration problems often associated with multi-vendor, large-scale integration projects.

The airport hired AirIT to provide a range of technologies to manage all operational flight activity, passenger processing and billing in a real-time environment. This, explains Keller, allowed the airport to maximize the efficiency of its facility and reap a "tremendous amount of value and substantial cost savings." Systems deployed include AirIT's Airport Operational Database (AODB), Enterprise Service Bus (ESB), Resource Management System (RMS), Flight Information Display Systems (FIDS), Advertising Display System (ADS), EASE shared use, common-use self-service (CUSS) and PROPworks, a property and revenue management system. AirIT also provided a Cisco network which included the campus wide network, voice over IP telephony and UCCX for the airport call center.

AirIT supports and maintains the system with six on-site field technicians.

Common Services

The new network also runs the SJC paging system and security cameras and facilitated the launch of Shared Tenant Services, a business arm of the airport that provides tenants use of the airport's phone system for a fee. "It saves the tenant the hassle of going external with a phone provider," Mack-Williams says.

New passenger amenities include power outlets for laptops, PDAs, etc., in one out of every four seats in all waiting areas. "We are the capital of Silicon Valley, and we have lots of road warriors who travel for business and leisure with their mobile devices," explains Vossbrink. "Silicon Valley's airport should be able to serve Silicon Valley's travelers in the best possible way."

Before 2008, the airport charged for Wi-Fi service. According to Vossbrink, the benefits of offering it for free outweigh the small loss of revenue. The airport is, however, "hoping and expecting" to secure a sponsor for the service.


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