Security services at the Key West International Airport are provided under contract to the County by the Monroe County Sheriff’s Office, Airport Security Division. These services are entirely funded by fees collected from the airlines and commercial vendors on site that profit from operating at the airfield, resulting in no cost to resident taxpayers.
The primary function of the Airport Security Division is to provide law enforcement protection for the traveling public. There is always a deputy sheriff on patrol at the airport 24 hours a day 7 days a week. There is also always an Airport Security Technician AST in the Control Room in the Security Department at the airport monitoring large displays of hundreds of cameras, as well as all the computerized door access alarms. Additional deputies and AST’s are stationed at the fixed guard post between the general aviation and commercial ramp areas to check cargos and to check authorized access to the secure area of the commercial ramp during the main hours of operation. Other AST’s and deputies are used to patrol the perimeter and assist passengers and taxi services, as well as enforce the ground transportation rules of the airport. This is all accomplished with a staff of 6 deputy sheriffs, 16 Airport Security Technicians, and 2 deputy sheriff sergeant/supervisors, all under the command of the Director of Security.
The MCSO Director of Airport Security, Lt. Mitch Snider, also provides services to the County as the Airport Security Coordinator (ASC). This position is required at all airports with commercial passenger operations, although not usually using by law enforcement. Included among the additional duties of this position is the responsibility to ensure that all aspects of the Key West International Airport comply with the Transportation Security Administration TSA approved Airport Security Program (ASP) and enforcement of that program. It involves controlling all doors and points accessing the secured areas, the security screening, background checks and badging of airport employees and other users who have access to these secure areas of the airport, and the annual training and interacting with all users of the facility who require access to controlled areas to ensure compliance. One AST position is also assigned full time just to handle the annual computerized training, issuing of badges to all employees , fingerprint and background checks for over 300 employees and other airport users, as well as maintain the video, computer and alarms systems as part of the ASC duty requirements.
On top of being one of the busiest general aviation airports in the state, one third of the operations at Key West International Airport involve commercial airliner passenger operations. Passenger airline services at Key West involve processing more than 600,000 people a year and result in more than 12,000 takeoffs and landings alone. When you factor in family and friends, rental car operations, the busy general aviation activities at the Fixed Base Operator Island City Flying Services, Key West Seaplanes, and other visitors to the airport, the total number of people the Airport Security Unit must be concerned with each year is approximately 1.5 million individuals on the airport grounds.
Key West International Airport started as a small private airport in 1927 when Palm Beach millionaire Malcolm Meacham leased the present site to Pan American Airways. The airport remained a small and privately owned strip until the start of World War II. The land was then purchased by the Federal government and converted into what was primarily a dirigible base. A runway of approximately 2,400 feet, oriented from northeast to southwest, was constructed on the site. This site, named Meacham Field, was sold to the County for $150,000 after the war was over.
In 1954, the Meacham Field runway was realigned to its current east-west orientation and, in 1958, the terminal was built. At this point, Meacham Field was renamed “Key West International Airport”. At about the same time, Aerovias Q Airline took over Pan American’s Havana flights. During these early years, the only consistency in air service to Key West was the speed at which the airline turnovers occurred. Aerovias Q Airline operated until it was displaced by Argonaut Airlines. American Air Taxi took over the routes of Argonaut Airlines in 1966, followed by Air Sunshine in 1973, by Air Florida in 1975, and by Southern Express in 1979. Providence-Boston Airlines (PBA) began competing for the Key West market in 1979 and soon had its own terminal area at Key West International Airport.
Passenger traffic at the airport started off modestly but continued to grow. The following represents a brief summary of traffic records from 1960 to the present:
Year Total Passengers
Key West International Airport is owned and operated by the Monroe County Board of County Commissioners. The Board of County Commissioners (BOCC) exercises management of the airport through the County Administrator, the Director of Airports and the Airport Manager. While the day to day operation of the airport is performed by County employees, the BOCC retains all authority for the rules and regulations at the airport and retains fiscal responsibility for airport operations.
The airport operates on revenues generated at the airport. It is a fully self-supporting operation that does not use ad valorum taxes to pay its bills. The revenue generated at the airport pays the full costs of employees, operations and maintenance.
The airport is located within the city limits of Key West and covers approximately 258 acres of land. These 258 acres includes 87 acres of unusable land composed of salt ponds and mangrove vegetation. This results in only 181 acres of usable land for the airport.
The airport is the home of a diverse community that includes aviation and non-aviation enterprises. The aviation community includes a “Fixed Base Operator” (Island City Flying Service), a FEDEX cargo operation and several tenants that provide sightseeing and banner towing services. The non-aviation facilities include a Greyhound bus terminal, a National Weather Service facility, a Customs operation, a Monroe County Public Works area, a Drivers License area, the East Martello historical site, and a park area.
The airport terminal accommodates over 600,000 passengers annually. This is equivalent to processing the entire population of Key West through the terminal every 10 days. Scheduled airline landings and takeoffs average approximately 123 daily.
The airfield system consists of one runway measuring 4,800 feet in length. The runway is 100 feet wide and is lighted and open for operations 24 hours per day. The airport maintains firefighting and rescue personnel on duty 24 hours per day as well as security. THE AIRPORT NEVER CLOSES.
In the event of an aircraft emergency at Key West International Airport, our first priority will always be the preservation of human life. Our initial reaction to an emergency scene will be to suppress any existing fire so that we may clear the way for passengers and crew to safely exit the aircraft. This initial firefighting effort may be of short duration or it may take a while if we have fuel burning on the ground. In any event, our goal is to establish a fire-safe path so that we can rescue people from the aircraft.
Here is a general sequence of events that may take place in the event of an emergency. The firefighters will most likely be the first to arrive at the scene and immediately begin fire suppression and rescue operations as circumstances dictate. As other firefighting equipment arrive, they will assist with the firefighting and rescue operation. As the rescue continues, the survivors will be moved to a staging area known as a “triage area”. Here, they will be given emergency treatment and categorized to identify those requiring priority delivery to the local hospital. The emergency medical teams will coordinate the activities at the triage area and will provide ambulances to move these patients to the hospital.
Once all passengers and crew are evacuated, the fire extinguished and the injured are transported for medical care, the area will be sealed off for the accident investigation.
THE INVESTIGATION PROCESS
The first requisite of calm, intelligent air crash coverage is to understand the rules and procedures under which accidents are investigated.
The primary rule is simple: Congress has assigned the cause determination of U. S. civil air accidents to the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB). These include any incidents resulting in injury to a crew member or passenger aboard a U. S. scheduled air carrier.
The NTSB is one of the government’s smaller agencies. Its aircraft accident investigation work is conducted by its Bureau of Aviation Safety which has approximately 200 pilot-investigator-technicians trained in everything from aircraft structures to witness interrogation. This comparatively small number of investigators, roughly half of them stationed in the NTSB’s eleven field offices throughout the country, is insufficient to handle all accident incidents. The NTSB, therefore, has temporarily delegated to the larger Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) the task of investigating non-fatal minor crashed involving light aircraft, and those involving helicopters. The NTSB still determines the cause of these minor crashes after evaluating the FAA’s findings.
This NTSB to FAA delegation of responsibility often is confusing to news media whose coverage of aviation news puts them into contact far more frequently with the larger agency. The FAA, indeed, has tremendous authority and duties in the system. It licenses airmen to fly. It conducts the periodic pilot check flights required by law. It sets the standards under which new aircraft are built, tested and flown. It promulgates the Federal Air Regulations under which U. S. civil aviation operates. But, it does not investigate crashes except for non-fatal light plane accidents, and it has no power to determine the cause of any accident.
The 12,500 pound weight margin which brings the NTSB into the picture, in effect, covers everything from the Beech 1900 up, and reporters usually can determine whether the NTSB or FAA is responsible for investigating an accident by just two factors: the size of the aircraft and whether fatalities resulted.
The news media should realize, then, that the National Transportation Safety Board is the axle around which the accident investigation process revolves. The NTSB utilizes its own experts, assisted by representatives of the so-called interested parties in order to utilize the best brains and knowledge of the industry. Reporters seeking information concerning the cause factors of an aircraft accident should remember that the NTSB is the sole organization that can provide this information. Other sources may provide their opinions or observations but they are only providing their best guesses. The NTSB should be contacted for factual and analytic cause factors.
NEWS MEDIA ACCESS ONTO KEY WEST INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT
Because the Federal Aviation Administration’s Federal Air Regulations (FAR Part 139) require that non-essential personnel be controlled in their access to airport flight and operational areas, reaching the scene of an aircraft incident or accident at the airport will require cooperation.
In addition to the FAA restrictions, it will be necessary to control access to the airport while the emergency is in progress. The airport will be carefully controlling access to the emergency site to make sure that we can move emergency vehicles to and from the site as necessary. Of course, the movement of these emergency vehicles will always take priority over everything else.
In this regard, members of the news media must understand that access to the accident scene WILL ALWAYS BE RESTRICTED UNTIL ALL FIRES ARE EXTINGUISHED, RESCUE OPERATIONS HAVE BEEN COMPLETED, ALL SURVIVORS AND INJURED HAVE BEEN TRANSPORTED AWAY FROM THE SCENE, AND THE ACCIDENT SITE HAS BEEN SECURED AND MARKED OFF. Under the very best of circumstances, this process will take at least one hour and very probably longer. Members of the media should understand this time delay and plan their activities accordingly.
Members of the press arriving at the airport to cover an aircraft emergency should recognize that they will not be granted immediate access to the emergency scene. Early arrivals at the airport should proceed to the “Media Queuing Area” in the short-term parking lot (see Exhibit “A”) for any preliminary information that may be available. Representatives from the Monroe County Sheriff’s/Key West Police Department Public Affairs Office or representatives of the airport will be able to furnish to the news media only the basic information associated with any emergency that occurs on the airport. Such basic information could include: type of aircraft involved; aircraft owner; number of passengers; runway used; flight number; destination; and location of the emergency scene. Members of the press that arrive early and attempt to gain access to the airfield via one of the gates will be turned away by one of the Law Enforcement Officers stationed at the gates. These gates, and the access areas around them, must remain clear while emergency activities are in progress. During these early emergency times, do not attempt to enter the field. You will be in the way and will be dealt with accordingly. Go to the Media Queuing Area.
It is the responsibility of the aircraft owner or company to supply you with complete details of the incident, or fragments of information, as they become available. The aircraft owner or company will be asked to provide a representative or contact to be present at the Media Queuing Area or at the scene of the emergency to brief news media representatives.
Once the emergency site has been secured, the airport will allow the news media to have access to the airfield. However, this access must be controlled and monitored. The news media representatives present at the Media Queuing Area will be advised when they may enter the airfield.
All media access to the airfield will be through the point determined by the Incident Commander and relayed to the Media Queuing Area. This will be determined by the type of incident and area of the airport involved. Emphasis after the immediate emergency is over and medical needs rendered will be based on a balance between evidence preservation and reopening the airport to an operational status.
If the incident occurs in the Security Identification Display Area (SIDA) or sterile area, access will be severely limited to under escort only by SIDA badged personnel. Media personnel arriving at an access gate should contact the Law Enforcement Officer at the gate. This Officer will require that all news representatives show proper news identification or proof that they are an authorized news media person. Law enforcement will provide vehicle escorts to take news media vehicles to and from the emergency site. NEVER LEAVE THE ESCORT AND DRIVE ON THE AIRPORT ON YOUR OWN!
Once at the emergency scene, if not in the SIDA or sterile area, members of the media are free to move about to view the scene and take photographs as desired. However, members of the media shall not cross through the security tape into the site and shall not move or touch any portions or fragments of the wreckage that may be discovered in the area.
There will be members of the Key West Police Department and/or the Monroe County Sheriff’s Office Public Information Office at the emergency scene Media Queuing Area to provide the news media with the most current information. Further, the Incident Commander will be available at the emergency scene to provide the media with information concerning the emergency.
SUMMARY AND QUICK NOTES