The FAA 300-Foot Rule
The Parking Industry Responds
By Thomas A. Butcher, P.E.
The Parking Industry has been extremely concerned with the Federal Aviation Administration's so-called 300-foot rule now in effect at airports. In the following article Thomas Butcher along with a number of consultants in the industry summarize the issues and the results of the rules and its impact on our industry.
Having now attended three "summit meetings" on airport security and worked with clients exploring the so-called 300-foot rule and its impact on airport parking design, operations and financing, we have concluded that the rule is ineffective in meeting public safety concerns while being difficult to interpret and enforce.
In our travels over the past three months, we have not found a single person outside the FAA who feels the rule should remain in place permanently with a 300-foot stand-off. However, according to statements made by FAA staff in public forums, they think that not only it will remain in place permanently, but the stand-off distance could be increased to 400 feet. To assist our industry in any effort to influence such decisions, we have taken the unusual step of submitting this letter to all three major parking publications.
A critical problem is that the current directive is not, in fact, a standing rule, regulation or even a published guideline. It is important first of all to understand that tIt is an emergency directive, issued in September, prohibiting the parking of "unauthorized vehicles" within 300 feet of the terminal.
The alternatives to closure of parking in that zone (inspection of vehicles before entering the zone and/or hardening to reduce damage) are used to obtain a "waiver" of the 300-foot stand-off. Where hardening is employed, it must be accompanied by a "blast" analysis, conducted by a firm approved by the FAA. Unofficially, we understand only three or four firms are approved to do this analysis. Waivers are considered on a case-by-case basis; different airports can and are being held to different standards. In the words of one FAA official, "what will be accepted at Jackson Hole is different from what would be accepted for LAX." Some variation is certainly understandable; airports, in fact, want more flexibility rather than less. However, it appears that the rule is being interpreted and enforced differently across the FAA regions, sometimes in contradiction to information provided by the FAA headquarters staff.
The 300-foot stand-off is sapping airports of critical net operating revenue essential to help pay for security enhancements elsewhere at the airport. According to a study by the Airports Council International, airport parking revenue may decline by $600 million in the 12 months following September 11 compared to the previous 12 months. It appears that approximately two-thirds of this amount is primarily due to reduced enplanements; however, the remainder is apparently due to the 300-foot rule. Where spaces have been taken out of service, they will be needed as enplanements return to "normal" levels. Inspections are expensive and inconveniencing the traveling public. While not all airports have found it to be too onerous, some airports have reported that the inspections cost more then their gross parking revenues. One client with 3,100 spaces at its terminals projects the annual cost of inspections to be $1.4 million and is considering "boarding" up the glass at the terminal until it can design hardening, simply to avoid the inspections.
Some airports have begun to explore the installation of blast walls at parking structures. The expense and building code implications of such extensive walls is not easily justified. However, our biggest concern with blast walls at parking facilities is that if an attack then occurs at curbside, the wall could confine and reflect shock waves, increasing loss of life and damage at the terminal.
Finally, 300 feet appears to be overly conservative, especially in light of the controls (or lack thereof) on vehicular access to curbside and truck docks. Both curbside and truck docks are potentially more attractive targets for vehicle bombs than parking at many airports.
There is no question that the degree of damage to the building and the potential for loss of life is definitely reduced with every incremental increase in the stand-off distance. There is no question that there could be loss of life and some damage to the terminal with a 300-foot stand-off, but there will also be loss of life and some damage with significantly greater stand-offs.
However, it appears from the information we have gathered that significant structural collapse, which is a key issue in the determination of an appropriate stand-off, is relatively unlikely for most modern terminal construction at distances less than half this stand-off. There is a cost/benefit relationship that has to weigh availability of parking against the risk of an attack and the benefits of a specific stand-off, especially in light of the existing conditions at most U.S. airports. It is certainly a difficult question, but it is instructive to look at how other entities dealing with terrorist threats have decided this very issue.
Other federal buildings, such as U.S. embassies abroad and "high-risk" federal buildings at home, which are at demonstrably higher risk level than airports, are subject to only a 100-foot stand-off of parking. The United Kingdom also has a 100-foot stand-off of parking at airports but applies it to both parking and curbside.
The Aviation and Transportation Security Act (ATSA) passed in November provides some federal dollars to assist airports in paying for both capital and operating costs resulting from recent FAA security mandates. However, there is a section regarding parking that only makes things harder for those making a good-faith effort to comply with the 300-foot rule.
The main results of the provisions of Section 106 of the act are to force the FAA to respond to a request for waiver within a specified time period and (at least at the surface) to accept threat assessments and mitigation recommendations made by local or state law enforcement officials. In projects where we have approached local officials for this help, local, state and FBI officials all have declined to do threat assessment and recommend mitigations. They will provide input into the process but will not develop such recommendations. The law also does not require the airport to mitigate to a level of safety comparable to whatever rule the FAA may have now or in the future "restricting public parking." The ATSA appears to give great leeway to airports to argue that they are at little to no threat at all, and at the same time gives FAA only a veto-type power.
In the absence of clear and complete permanent guidelines, designers of new airport facilities are left to guess what may be appropriate and/or necessary in the future. While we understand that the plethora of existing conditions makes it difficult to mandate specific standards retroactively, we can and should do better with new construction. There are today clear and well-defined standards for design of new embassies abroad and most federal buildings at home. The standards' distribution is closely held, but the documents do include threat and damage prevention critieria, as well as guidelines for structural and architectural design of various elements.
The community of those involved in airport parking needs the development of clear guidelines, with appropriate controls on publication, to facilitate the design and operation of public access to parking, curbside and truck docks. Although designed for new construction, such standards would also provide considerably more insight into appropriate mitigations for existing conditions. It is our suggestion that the industry take the following steps:
Request modifications in the ATSA that reduce the potential for conflicting interpretations of the threat to public safety and at the same time, calls for development of a permanent rule with appropriate guidelines regarding any restrictions on public parking within one year of September 11, 2001.
Request an immediate reduction in the stand-off distance to 100 feet for most if not all category airports. This will markedly reduce the number of airports encountering significant difficulty and/or expense complying with the stand-off directive, and reduce the number of requests for waiver that may be submitted to the FAA, particularly in light of the current language in the ATSA.
Request the formation of a taskforce to develop a reasonable, rational and understandable guideline for public vehicular access to curbside, parking and loading docks. It appears that the appropriate process would be to form a Subcommittee to the RTCA, an independent group that is currently charged by the FAA to update the document "Recommended Security Guidelines for Airport Planning, Design and Construction." (June 2001)
It is obvious from discussions with the FAA that the only way to change the rule is for the airports and/or the traveling public to make their concerns known to the FAA. The Airport Consultants Council and Airports Council International each have begun efforts to change the 300-foot stand-off and the ATSA. We encourage others in the parking industry who are impacted by this issue to make their opinions and specific circumstances known to the FAA. Letters supporting a change in the 300-foot rule may be directed to the Honorable Jane Garvey, Administrator, FAA, Room 1010, 800 Independence Ave SW, Washington, DC 20591-0004.
Thomas Butcher, PE, is Director of Aviation Services for Walker Parking Consultants.