Security systems at McCarran’s Terminal 3 will be second to none, officials say

Terminal 3 under construction at McCarran Airport in Las Vegas on Wednesday, Jan. 25, 2012.

When McCarran International Airport's $2.4 billion Terminal 3 opens in June, it will have the most advanced security and port-of-entry technology in the country, Department of Homeland Security officials said in a briefing this week at the airport.

About 30 resort executives from across the city toured the new 14-gate international and domestic terminal, receiving updates from the Transportation Security Administration and the Customs and Border Protection operations at McCarran.

The briefings were sponsored by airport officials and the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority.

The LVCVA is working to increase the percentage of international visitors to the city from 18 percent today to 30 percent in 10 years. Terminal 3, which opens its doors June 27, is a key component to making that happen.

McCarran will more than double its capacity to process international arrivals with more space and better technology, and the TSA is upgrading equipment and overhauling its procedures to provide a friendlier environment while maintaining a vigilant watch on people getting on planes.

Rosemary Vassiliadis, deputy director of the Clark County Aviation Department, said Terminal 3 would feature seven gates capable of handling international arrivals compared with four at the existing Terminal 2. That will enable McCarran to process 2,000 passengers an hour compared with the current 800.

Initially, Terminal 3 was to have six international gates, but one has been redesigned to be able to handle either international or domestic arrivals.

The linear design of Terminal 3 will enable most services — from baggage check-in and security checks to passenger arrival processing and baggage claim — to be housed on one level.

While the terminal is designed to expand international arrivals, it also will relieve growing pains for some of the airport's domestic carriers. Some domestic long-haul flights will arrive and board at Terminal 3, and an underground transportation system similar to the trams already operating at the airport will move passengers to 26 D gates.

What that means is a steep learning curve for local residents — and one of the reasons why the resort community was given an early briefing.

Terminal 3 will open in phases, with international arrivals starting June 27, the domestic component on line by the end of July and the link to the D gates by the end of August. That should give local airport users plenty of time to determine whether they'll need to access their flights from the new terminal or what's currently known as Terminal 1.

While local McCarran passengers have time to get their bearings, the airport's Department of Homeland Security agencies are using better technology to speed up inbound passenger processing as well as outbound passenger security checks.

Karen Burke, the federal security director for McCarran's TSA operation, said the upper level of Terminal 3 offered the potential for 14 security screening lanes for those 14 gates and the potential for 17 in a lower level for traffic bound for the D gates.

Burke said the local TSA was getting new software and hardware for better detection and increased processing speed and an automatic target recognition system that would immediately identify explosives and guns.

Walk-through metal detectors will continue to scan for magnetic and nonmagnetic metals and mixed alloys.

But Burke said what could be an even more important part of the process would be to reduce the number of people who must be screened in the first place. The TSA is embracing trusted traveler programs like Global Entry, and last month the TSA inaugurated its Pre-Check program that works in conjunction with some airlines' frequent-flier programs.

The agency also is training its 1,150 McCarran TSA officers to detect bad-intent behavior. Uniformed and plain-clothes officers will watch for telltale behavior to detect potentially dangerous passengers. The risk-based security procedure is designed to minimize line waits and focus security efforts on those deserving the most scrutiny.

TSA administrator Chris Schmidt said the increase in baggage fees by airlines had resulted in a greater volume of carryon luggage, but the new risk-based procedures and known-traveler programs are enabling some passengers, including veterans and children under 12, to pass through lines without removing their shoes or jackets while leaving laptop computers and small containers of liquids in their carryons.

He added that a TSA Mobile App was available through iTunes that provides information on wait times, prohibited and permitted items and other guidance. He admitted the jury may still be out on the wait time information from McCarran because of the large number of conventioneers that create spikes in lines.

Upgraded baggage scanners will have three-dimensional imaging to view what's inside suitcases and minimize suitcase intrusions.

On the receiving end, Kim Smith, port director of McCarran's Customs and Border Protection operation, said Terminal 3 would have 24 receiving lanes compared with 16 at the existing terminal and five baggage carousels instead of two.

The operation will welcome 81 international flights a week — roughly 11 a day — and Smith said its federal budget allocation would enable it to be fully staffed by June when Terminal 3 opens.

Smith also said the Global Entry trusted passenger program was used 1.6 million times last year and saved 34,000 staff hours nationwide.

While most aspects of Terminal 3 and welcoming more international guests are favorable, Smith said the Customs and Border Protection office wouldn't be able to accommodate flights arriving between midnight and 8 a.m. The office is open daily from 8 a.m. to midnight.

Vassiliadis and Ralenkotter said the scheduling issue wasn't causing any immediate concern, but that it would be addressed through negotiation with the office and possible help from the state's congressional delegation if an airline wanting to bring thousands of passengers to Las Vegas was turned away by Customs and Border Protection.

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  1. Chunky says:

    "Security second to none" equals invasion of privacy, unlawful searches, detainment / delay of law abiding citizens and passenger inconvenience will be First Class all the way!

    That's what Chunky thinks!