Securing the Aerotropolis: city-centric airport security

by Jeffrey Price and Jeffrey Forrest

The geographic concept of location and its relationship to human activity has been well established throughout recorded human history. In modern times, one of the most well-known places of varied human activity is the ‘central business district’ or CBD. Varying volume and types of activity within a CBD can stimulate demands for numerous modes of transportation and related systems. In the case of air transportation, these demands usually create a need for land use planning that co-locates airports in strategic ways to CBDs. In this traditional model, the proximity and modes of interconnecting transportation systems of the airport are driven by the demands of the CBD. However, in recent years more discussion and strategic planning is taking place that prescribes the need to establish the airport as the centre of economic activity and resulting urban infrastructure, thereby replacing the role of the CBD. This relatively new concept is being discussed and implemented globally, and is referred to as the ‘airport-centric’ development plan, or ‘aerotropolis’. Jeffrey Price and Jeffrey Forrest examine the security implications and considerations.

As potentially analogous to the CBD, the aerotropolis can also be viewed as a strategy and body of tactics for land use and development principles centred on the airport as the foci for commerce. Human activity surrounding and connected to the aerotropolis is planned and conducted in ways that gain from economies and related efficiencies offered by the central airport of a geographic region to the aerotropolis. To offer these benefits will require new ways of connecting and accessing the key airport within the aerotropolis to passengers and cargo. New policies and processes for interacting with the airport within the aerotropolis will have profound implications to traditional concerns of airport security. The implications will be further complicated in areas where the supply-chain is affected, such as off-site cargo or passenger screening.

As the commercial aviation industry and airport infrastructure developed after World War II, land use was cultivated with focus on, and connected to, the geographic area’s primary CBD. Even though airports in the U.S. typically issue master plans that include land use development strategies, much of the design of surrounding communities has been developed with little consideration to the primary airport. Part of this lack of planning is caused by the Federal Aviation Administration providing significant capital funding for airports and airport master plans, whereas many local communities do not provide capital to the airport. While community input is solicited as part of the planning process, without funding being attached to community support, the community concerns are not typically given as much weight in planning decisions. However, this absence of planning has resulted in residential encroachment too close to the airport (with related issues of noise and other environmental concerns) and less effective and efficient systems for transportation of passenger and cargo to and from the primary airport to the CBD.

In contrast to the above concerns, airport-centric philosophy of the aerotropolis is the purposeful implementation of land use and related infrastructure development that leverages the effectiveness and efficiency of the airport’s services to the surrounding industrial and residential community. Increased benefits offered by the Aerotropolis will require land use to be planned for greater connectivity to the airport – for example, more effective and efficient connectivity from the perspectives of the arriving passenger (domestic or international), the pedestrian living in adjacent areas and walking to the aerotropolis, and the local manufacturer that is trying to reduce the cost of shipping associated with the traditional ‘last mile’ escalation in operating costs. This system of enhanced access, within and connecting to the aerotropolis will place greater demands on security in order to ensure adequate levels of protection against threats.

As a centre of commerce, a situation can be foreseen where business executives may want to meet with travellers on site, at the airport. The aerotropolis concept goes beyond the traditional airport-hotel or meeting-room concept. Executives are focused on efficiencies and desire to maximise their time on site, not standing around in security lines or getting special approval to go into the sterile area for a meeting. Security personnel in the aerotropolis will have to consider how to accommodate these high-speed business interpersonal transactions.

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