Security operations such as police, fire and emergency communications at the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport are in five different locations across the airport’s sprawling 3,400-acre footprint.
Airport officials said Tuesday there’s a better way to coordinate these critical operations: a new $77.5 million safety and security center — built with considerable financial help from the federal government.
U.S. Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Ore., and Rep. Angie Craig, D-Minn., toured MSP airport to support the project, which is still in early stages of development. Both sit on House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, with DeFazio serving as chairman — and they vowed to push for more infrastructure funding, including money to modernize and support airports nationwide.
“It’s about making sure we’re as prepared as we can be. We hope that there’s never an incident or event that would require that,” Craig said. “To make the airport work more efficiently and effectively, we need to start investing in our aviation infrastructure in this country, as well as our highways, roads and bridges.”
The center would combine the airport’s fire station, police department, emergency communications center and operations that support runway upkeep. There would also be space for the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) and U.S. Customs and Border Protection. Officials are hopeful the center could be operational by 2022.
About 150 people would move into the new space and there would be room for squad cars, fire trucks and other equipment. Officials were circumspect about its exact location, but it would be within the airport’s secure area.
Rick King, chairman of the Metropolitan Airports Commission, which owns and operates MSP, noted that nearly 39 million passengers fly to, from or through the airport annually, and some 20,000 people work there. Those responsible for keeping them safe should work in the same space for “quick coordination,” he said.
After terrorist attacks at Brussels and Istanbul Ataturk airports in 2016, TSA recommended that airport security centers be established nationwide to improve communications and response times during security incidents and to promote a “unity of mission.”
So far, airports in Dallas and Los Angeles have built such centers.
About $16.2 million of the total project cost at MSP is eligible for a grant under the Federal Aviation Administration’s Airport Improvement Program, and the MAC is exploring $20 million from other federal sources.
The remaining $41.3 million would come from passenger fees and bonding done by the airport. No state or local tax dollars would support the project.
Fees levied on airline tickets — money used for airport upkeep — are currently capped by the federal government at $4.50 a passenger, a rate that hasn’t changed since 2001. DeFazio would like to increase the cap to help pay for security centers and other airport infrastructure.
“Airlines say if you raise the user fee $1 — which would make the airport experience better and get passengers through security faster, everything the public wants — they’ll never fly again,” he said. “But they can raise bag fees infinitely, and you’ll thank them and keep flying.”