High-Tech Terminal Takes Airport Comfort, Security to New Heights

Pennsylvania’s Harrisburg International may be small, but this airport boasts passenger conveniences and safety measures that are first class

By Sandra J. Wimmer, Senior Editor

By 2001, Pennsylvania’s Harrisburg International Airport (HIA) grew too small to accommodate its skyrocketing passenger load. The airport, operated by the Susquehanna Area Regional Airport Authority (SARAA), was just preparing to make $40 million in renovations to the existing terminal building when the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 occurred. As a result, new security and baggage screening requirements, mandated by the Aviation and Transportation Security Act of November 2001, propelled the cost of planned renovations to approximately $80 million.


SARAA decided instead to rebuild. In March, 2002, the authority approved a $222 million program, which included the demolition of 10 World War II-era buildings and the construction of a new, eight-gate terminal building, a multi-modal transportation facility, a new Amtrak station, a new apron and parallel taxiway, and an upgraded CAT III Instrument Landing System (ILS). A four-gate extension was approved the following summer at an additional cost of about $18 million.


“While we could have expanded the existing facility, the expense, time, and effort necessary to do so would have been tremendously costly and very inconvenient to the airlines, passengers, and staff needing to use the building throughout the renovation process,” says Alfred Testa Jr., HIA Director of Aviation. “The logistics involved with retrofitting a 16-year-old building that is already too small and inefficient to meet today’s passenger loads was just too mind-boggling to reasonably attempt.”


The 12-gate, high-tech, high-security terminal opened to passengers—and rave reviews—last August.


“This is the first terminal building in the United States to be completely designed, built, and opened to meet all the post 9/11 security procedures,” Testa says. “This wonderful new facility, combined with increasing flights and more comparable airfares, will allow more and more central Pennsylvanians to choose the airlines serving Harrisburg International Airport.”


Airport Launches State-of-the-Art Security Measures


Post-September 11, 2001 security measures require that every piece of luggage that passes through an airport be screened. HIA had no extra space for the necessary equipment, so van-sized screening machines sat in the lobby of the old terminal. That meant moving bags on carts across the lobby, creating a potential security breach.


“There were a lot of areas there that could have been compromised,” says Charles Chase, Federal Security Director at HIA. “Now we don’t have that anymore.”


The equipment is now housed in the basement of HIA’s new 350,000-square-foot terminal. The airport’s in-line baggage system, the first of its kind in the country, measures nearly 3⁄4 mile long. Three CAT scan-like machines electronically scan about 1,200 bags per hour.
“The in-line baggage system that we have designed for this building and the L3 examiner machines we have are state-of-the-art,” Chase says.


The Transportation and Security Act mandates that employees be screened, as well. To enter the air operations area—the secure area of the terminal, for example, vehicles must go through a sally port. Drivers enter through one gate and are searched before passing through a second gate to the secure area. In addition, the current threat level determines how close cars may park to the building at a given time.


By building a new terminal, HIA was able to eliminate costly, time-consuming background checks of construction crews.


“After September 11, the government made more strict requirements on background checks,” says Mark Berkheimer, IT Manager for HIA. “If we had renovated the old building, we would have had to screen every single construction worker for every contractor that was placed on the job. Some of those guys would have been disqualified from working on the project, even though they’re well qualified. It’s just that their background wouldn’t allow it.


“By building a new building, we could fence off the whole project and keep it separate from the secure area of the existing terminal,” Berkheimer says. “We could have anybody coming in there and doing work and didn’t have to worry about the background checks.”


Reconstruction Project Takes Off


The scope of the airport reconstruction project was understandably broad, encompassing hundreds of workers who represent dozens of trades. HIA relied on San Francisco-based URS Corp. to manage the massive project. The company sent out a list of prequalifications required of contractors.


“We went through each contractor to verify that, yes, they could handle this type of job set by the criteria that we outlined,” Berkheimer says. “Once we got it down to a short list of contractors, we sent out bid packages on what we wanted done for each trade.”


Vendors had to submit two separate packages: one highlighting exactly what work would be done, another specifying the price.


“We originally took the response without the price, sat down with a group of people, and created a checklist that added up to 100 points,” Berkheimer says. “The last item we looked at was the price, [which] only accounted for 10 points out of the 100.”


Audible Announcements Arrive


The vendor named to provide the airport’s paging system was not chosen based on lower price, although the company did bid $30,000 less than its competitor. Morefield Communications, based in Camp Hill, PA, upgraded the paging system in another HIA building a few years ago.


“I was completely satisfied with the quality that we got out of that,” Berkheimer says. “So when it came time for the new project, I went to Morefield.”


“We were asked to be one of the bidders for the new system,” says Jack Covert, General Manager of Audiovideo Services, Morefield Communications. “[HIA] went from a hard bid on a specification to more of an RFP (request for proposals) for a design of the system.”


The new terminal uses a sound system that is common to many airport but is enhanced with Crown amplifiers and about 650 JBL loudspeakers designed to perform in the space.


“Obviously, there was no space there because it’s a new building,” Covert says. “So we actually took the architectural plans and developed an acoustical three-dimensional CAD model of the facility and plugged in all of the components to see how [the system] would perform in the space. We were able to derive all of the performance data before the building was even erected.”


Ambient sensors throughout the facility measure background sounds, automatically adjusting the loudspeaker volume to the amount of noise in a particular area of the airport.


“When it’s quiet, people’s ears are not bleeding,” Covert says. “When it’s loud, people can hear the pages. When you get a lot of people waiting for their baggage, you just hear the sound system slowly fade up above them. When the belts run, and it’s noisy, and everybody grabs their stuff, you can still hear background music and pages. When everybody clears out, it slowly drops back down again.”


“Everybody likes how rich the sound is,” Berkheimer adds. “You go to some airports—it’s very tingy and overbearing and loud. Ours has a very deep sound to it that’s more pleasant to the ears. Everybody comments on it.”


An automated, digital music system, manufactured by Netherlands-based Quebbie, offers customized background music throughout the terminal. Through a touchscreen interface, HIA can set up custom playlists from 8,000 titles, feeding songs through the sound system.


“[The terminal manager] custom tailors [the background music] to whatever mood he wants to create in the airport at any given time,” Covert says.


“The sound system in the new terminal building has met and exceeded all of our expectations,” says Scott Miller, HIA Manager of Marketing and Public Relations. “In fact, we are constantly getting comments regarding the music and the audio system. We are extremely pleased!”


Video Surveillance Keeps Security in Check


Harrisburg International Airport’s new terminal is the only one that meets all Transportation and Security Administration (TSA) regulatory requirements for safety implemented after September 11, 2001.


About 130 pan-tilt-zoom and fixed surveillance cameras throughout the facility record airport activity to digital video recorders and multiplexers. HIA can store a month’s worth of video digitally. Security personnel may call up archived footage from any camera at any time.


TSA now requires all airports to have cameras in screening areas. At HIA, flat-panel monitors attached to the ceiling allow travelers to see themselves as they’re being screened. Passengers see exactly what the airport police department sees.


The video surveillance system features alarm interface points that integrate with the access control system. If there is a breach in a secure door, the nearest camera will position itself to zoom in on that door. In addition, all external cameras have night-sense capabilities. At dusk, cameras change modes automatically for night viewing.


Data Delays Depart


A popular amenity among HIA’s business travelers is the airport’s free Wi-Fi (wireless fidelity) Internet access, provided by 3Com, Marlborough, MA. The company is listed with the state, so HIA relied on a piggyback contract.


“That way, we didn’t have to put it out to bid,” Berkheimer says. “I could select who I wanted to do that work.


“We offer wireless Internet free of charge,” Berkheimer says. “We’re one of the few airports in the nation to do that. Passengers love it.”


Travelers also appreciate the personal attention they get from Berkheimer’s IT staff.


“If [passengers] have an issue with trying to get online with their laptops, they go to customer service or one of the tenants here, and they’ll give our phone number,” Berkheimer says. “My IT staff will go help passengers one-on-one to get their laptops online with us.”


Every tenant in the airport—from airlines to restaurants—uses HIA’s data network, as well.
“We made a requirement that we would own the backbone, and we’d own all the cables in the walls,” Berkheimer says. “All the tenants have to do is plug in their PCs, bring in their T1s, and that’s the end of their responsibility for networking their equipment.”


In the old terminal, every tenant used its own contractor over the years to add, install, or make changes to its network.


“What you had in the ceiling was a spaghetti mess of wires that weren’t labeled or weren’t properly installed according to building code,” Berkheimer says. “We took it one step farther and said, ‘Look, we’re going to own everything from the outlet in the wall to the telephone switch and the networking switches—everything.’”


Today, HIA tenants must contract with the airport to add network connections and make changes.


“That way, we know it’s done to code,” Berkheimer says. “We know that we have good contractors doing the work, that it’s not shoddy craftsmanship, and it doesn’t reflect that when people walk by and look at the walls or the ceilings and see things out of whack. Plus, we know where all the cables go to now!”


Airport is Destined for Future Success


With rocking chairs in the second-floor atrium, Harrisburg International Airport offers a relaxing environment with the atmosphere of a small town. HIA’s advanced security measures and high-tech amenities, however, are anything but small scale.


“The Harrisburg area may be half a million people but the airport can accommodate a lot more,” Covert says. “It was built with the future in mind.”