By JIM THARPE
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Published on: 05/28/08
The committee that oversees Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport is expected to approve high-speed, paid security lanes Wednesday, but it's not clear when the new checkpoints will begin operating.
A contract for the lanes, which are aimed at business travelers and are already being used at more than a dozen U.S. airports, comes before the Transportation Committee of the Atlanta City Council Wednesday morning. The committee is expected to approve the deal, clearing the way for final approval by the entire council next week.
Approval of the contract permits airport officials to begin discussion with Steve Brill and his company, Clear, about how and when to install the lanes at Hartsfield-Jackson, the world's busiest airport and a possible boon to Brill's operation.
"I think it will happen sooner than later," Brill said Tuesday in a telephone interview from his New York office. "We'd like to beat the summer rush, and we think we can."
Some 7,000 people in metro Atlanta have already signed up for Brill's program. Clear charges participants $128 a year with the promise to speed them through airport security in five minutes. More than 160,000 people use the service nationwide.
Hartsfield-Jackson General Manager Ben DeCosta declined Tuesday to speculate if Brill's lanes will be operating in Atlanta during the 100 days of the summer rush, which begins June 1. The airport is currently constructing 10 new security lanes and looking at a number of free programs to speed up security lanes.
"We need to look at everything we have going on and figure out the best way to approach it," DeCosta said.
Once the contract is approved, DeCosta said, Brill will be called in for a series of planning meetings with officials representing the airport, the airlines and the Transportation Security Administration. Only then will a decision be made about how and when to implement the paid lanes.
DeCosta said airport officials also are looking at a number of security-lane enhancements that will be open to all passengers. One option would be to establish so-called "black diamond" lanes — named after ski slopes designated for experts — that would direct more experienced travelers toward specific lanes.
Airport officials have been aggressively working to reduce Hartsfield-Jackson security wait times, which can fluctuate wildly. Wait times can run more than an hour during the frenetic morning rush but dwindle to just a few minutes in the middle of the day. The airport wants the wait to run no longer than 15-20 minutes and has pressured the TSA to fully staff all 22 main gates during rush hours.