Orlando's airport is on the cutting-edge of the nation's war on terrorism.
By Ken Ibold
A consortium charged with keeping airlines safe is launching a high-tech salvo from a quiet alcove of Terminal A at Orlando International Airport. Six cutting-edge security devices there are screening passengers in a test-run of the equipment.
OIA is one of only two permanent test centers nationwide -- the other is McGhee Tyson Airport in Knoxville, Tenn. -- selected by the National Safe Skies Alliance, an industry consortium, to evaluate the new security devices because of the airport's heavy traffic, diverse mix of travelers and accessible space. The effort, which actually started more than five years ago, has taken on new urgency -- and funding -- since the terrorist hijackings last fall.
Carolyn Fennell, spokeswoman for the Greater Orlando Aviation Authority, is touting the airport's selection: "It identifies us as being on the leading edge of technology," she says. "This whole economy depends so strongly on the airport being a successful conduit to the business community."
Dubbed the Advanced Technology Checkpoint Project, the test center asks passengers to volunteer to be screened.
Bags are subject to a dual-scan X-ray device that allows the screener to see the contents from two angles, rather than the current flat top-down view. They are "sniffed" by a machine that uses low-level radio waves to probe the molecular structure of a bag's contents. Finally, bottles can be scanned for explosives and other contraband, without opening them or affecting the contents in any way.
Meanwhile, passengers are checked by puffs of air that can be electronically examined for traces of drugs or explosives. An advanced metal detector shows screeners a digital photograph of passengers with any suspect areas marked by a dot, rather than the general warning squeal. Finally, a controversial body scanner uses low-level X-rays to look for non-metallic objects hidden under clothes.
The body scanner has met with some resistance from people who equate it with an electronic strip search. Operators point out that the screener who views the image never sees the person and that the images are distorted and unrecognizable. It already has been used by the U.S. Customs Service and state departments of corrections.
The tests are being run by Safe Skies and the federal Transportation Security Administration. The airport just serves as landlord for the test site.
In exchange, the airport gets an additional security screening lane for free and the panache of being on the cutting edge. "In the end, this is something that is for all of the traveling public in looking at enhanced security measures," says Brigitte Craig, the airport's director of security.
IN THE NEWS
DeLand -- Mariner Post-Acute Network Inc. of Atlanta says it will close its 180-bed DeLand nursing home as part of the company's Chapter 11 bankruptcy reorganization. The move will force 160 residents to find other accommodations. The company blamed the closure on rising litigation costs, which it says will reach $12,000 per bed in 2002.
Kissimmee -- State regulators gave Florida Hospital Celebration Health and Osceola Regional Medical Center permission to add 40 beds each, 57% of what the two hospitals had requested but enough to elate officials who say the hospitals are swamped with patients.
Longwood -- Hancock Information Group says it has landed a deal to sell telephone services for two large phone companies, leading the call center operator to add 250 workers to its staff of 350. The contracts mean about $5 million in revenue annually for the USA Interactive subsidiary.
Melbourne -- Orlando law firm GrayHarris hired five attorneys let go from Holland & Knight after that firm cut its operations last spring. The five attorneys increase GrayHarris' Melbourne office to 15 attorneys.
Orlando -- Hotelier Harris Rosen and longtime business associate Greg Mateer have launched Baggage Airline Guest Service, a company to ferry hotel guests' luggage to and from Orlando International Airport and check them aboard outgoing flights. The airport, three major airlines and the Federal Aviation Administration are backing a pilot program that could begin this summer.
Dolly Parton's on-again, off-again Dixie Stampede Dinner and Show is back on again. The entertainer says the $28-million project has a green light because of the rebound in tourism after last fall's slump. The project includes a 120,000-sq.-ft. dinner theater with 1,200 seats. The attraction is scheduled to open May 2003.
A bankruptcy judge in Baltimore has approved $300 million in financing for Sunterra Corp.'s Chapter 11 reorganization. The money will be used to retire existing debt, fund the timeshare company's reorganization plan and provide revolving credit to the company.
Central Florida's largest ad agency, Yesawich, Pepperdine & Brown, is going back to its founder. YPB President Peter Yesawich and a few other minority investors have bought back the agency from its owner, PubliGroupe of Switzerland. The agency, with 2001 billings of $118 million, had been corporate-owned for four years.
Developer Jay Royall announced plans for a 10-story downtown apartment building that may contain 276 units. The tower would be connected to a six-story parking garage and include a swimming pool, health club and nearly 18,000 square feet of retail space. Not to be outdone, GDC Properties countered with plans to build an eight-story, $33-million mixed-use development nearby that will include 338 apartments, 22,000 square feet of retail space and two parking garages.
Universal Orlando opened its third on-site hotel, the $135-million Royal Pacific Resort, completing the company's planned roster of three on-site, Loews-managed hotels. The Royal Pacific joins the Portofino Bay and the Hard Rock.
Nabisco announced plans to build a 112,000-sq.-ft. distribution center at Airport International Park of Orlando.
Port Canaveral -- Norwegian Cruise Lines will add Port Canaveral to its ports of call in May 2003, adding a stop by a big New York-based ship so travelers can disembark for a visit to Orlando-area attractions. Travelers will also be able to embark at the port for trips to Miami; Nassau, Bahamas; and the company's private island in the Bahamas on the 2,240-passenger ship Dawn.
UCF Creates Tech Ph.D. Program
ORLANDO -- The University of Central Florida has created a doctoral program in computer modeling and simulation.
UCF and Old Dominion University in Norfolk, Va., are the only schools offering such a degree. The federal government kicked in $5.5 million to launch the program.