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AviationExisting airports through futuristic glass pods

Published 5 December 2013

Two small Northeast airports, Syracuse and Atlantic City, have installed futuristic unmanned portals to replace security officers at the airports’ exit points. The move, which will add a few seconds to the end of passengers’ trips as they exit the airports, is estimated to save airports millions of dollars in wages over time.

Two small Northeast airports, Syracuse and Atlantic City, have installed futuristic unmanned portals to replace security officers at the airports’ exit points. The move, which will add a few seconds to the end of passengers’ trips as they exit the airports, is estimated to save airports millions of dollars in wages over time.

The Boston Globe reports that the bulletproof glass pods will prevent passengers from returning to secure areas of the airport once they conclude their flights; the pods will also prevent outsiders from entering the secure areas using the exit door. Travelers are directed to step into the cylinder pods and wait as the door slides shut. After a few seconds, a second door slides open with a voice instructing passengers to “Please exit.”

TheGlobe notes that that the doors may be the solution for many airports as the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) transfers the responsibility for monitoring exit points at airports from TSA agents to local airport officials. The shift is expected to save the TSA hundreds of millions of dollars over time.

The supplier of the portals, New York City-based Eagle Security Group, Inc.,has confirmed that other airports are looking to adopt the pods. Senator Bob Casey (D-Pennsylvania), who wants to keep the TSA in charge of monitoring airport exits, says that shifting the responsibility to local airports could cost Philadelphia International Airport about $2 million a year.

Syracuse airport has installed eight portals earlier this year at a total cost of roughly $750,000, a savings over time, since it would cost $580,000 per year to staff each exit with a security guard.

‘‘So when compared with the cost to install the portals, they will have paid for themselves and begin saving the airport money in little over a year,’’ said Syracuse aviation commissioner Christina Callahan. ‘‘Certainly funding is limited for staffing,’’ she said. ‘‘Airports are going to have to find other ways to keep up with mandates.’’

Atlantic City airport saves an estimated $300,000 a year, according to South Jersey Transportation Authority spokesman Kevin Rehmann. The airport installed five portals in 2009, but upgraded the portals last year as part of a $25 million terminal renovation.

Critics of the portals have compared them to “detention pods,” in reference to a police state. Aviation security expert Jeff Price considers the comparison unwarranted. ‘‘It doesn’t do anything to you. There’s no privacy intrusion. All it does is prevent a backflow of people,’’ said Price. ‘‘It’s not conducting a National Security Agency check or something.’’

Passengers have raised the issue of whether the portals contain a biometric scanning mechanism, but officials say though it is possible to equip the portals with scanning technology, the current versions used at airport exit points are just a barrier between secure and nonsecure areas of the airport. “We’re not scanning anything or doing anything really,’’ Rehmann said. ‘‘When one side’s open, the other side’s closed. Period.’’