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Aviation’s 2017 nightmares begin in Fort Lauderdale

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There is still a lot to be learned from today’s shooting incident at Fort Lauderdale Airport, but this is the nightmare the industry – especially US airlines and airports – feared as we entered a new year.

What was known by early Friday afternoon was that at least five people were killed and eight injured in the shooting, a suspect was in custody, and all services at the airport were suspended. The shooting happened in the Terminal 2 baggage claim area, which is on the land side of the airport and not on the secured post-screening side. Air Canada and Delta Air Lines operate out of T2.

From what little is known, however, there are patterns and differences relative to recent similar incidents.

Differences: First, this was a shooting, not a bomb. The terrorist attacks at Brussels and Istanbul airports (and we have no indications yet as to whether this was an organized terror event or an individual) involved explosives. Second, if reports are true, the perpetrator is alive, while the Brussels and Istanbul attackers were killed by their own bombs.

Similarities: Airports – ie, aviation – is targeted again. And the incident happened on the “unsecured” side of the terminal, before security screening.

What we learn in the next few days will be critical to how much impact this incident will have on the air transport industry, especially in the US. Fort Lauderdale is a relatively small, but very popular and busy airport. It provides easy access to beach resorts, seaports (a lot of cruise ships operate out of Fort Lauderdale and nearby Miami ports), a large convention center, and to Miami, for which FLL is often regarded as a low-cost carrier alternative. This is also high season for tourism as many US and Canadian sun-seekers head for a break from their northern homes.

The industry will be watching closely to see if this event shakes confidence in the traveling public and reduces demand.

But the other question will be whether this event begins an operational process change at airports akin to that which happened after 9/11, which spawned the no knives; laptops/shoes/belts off; gels in tiny containers in plastic bags procedures that are still standard practice at every airport 15 years later.  Will there now be calls for new, additional pre-security screening and procedures?

After the Brussels and Istanbul bombings, Airports Council International (ACI) called for “a common sense approach to landside security”, pointing out that additional screening at a terminal entrance could bring its own risks -- creating an additional bottleneck and merely moving the vulnerability to another location where it might not be as well managed. Will that warning be heeded post-Fort Lauderdale?

Karen Walker karen.walker@penton.com 

 

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