International air travel gaining speed in Miami
By Scott Blake
"Big Brother" will have a lot more to watch at Miami International Airport with the upcoming opening of the new $180 million Federal Inspection Services area in the airport's North Terminal.
Run by US Department of Homeland Security, the state-of-the-art facility is a labyrinth of checkpoints, surveillance cameras, waiting areas, corridors, screening and interrogation rooms — as well as holding cells for those who run afoul of federal immigration rules and regulations.
It doesn't sound like a happy place. But airport officials are happy it will finally open, slated for July 31 or soon thereafter. And they said travelers arriving on flights from outside the US also should be happy about it because wait times will be reduced.
The new facility will about double the airport's passport control lanes, which are used to process millions of incoming passengers from international flights each year.
That should significantly decrease the time to process those travelers through Miami International's in-house immigration system, which now can stretch to two or three hours or more during peak times. Typical waits are expected to be no longer than an hour once the new inspection area opens.
"The travel experience, in our opinion, is going to be greatly enhanced," said Juan Carlos Arteaga, the airport's North Terminal development program director.
When the North Terminal inspection area opens, the Central Terminal's inspection area will close temporarily until US Customs and Border Patrol staffing there can be increased enough so that both inspection areas can operate.
Federal officials have estimated the Central Terminal inspection area will be closed three to four months before it gets enough staff to reopen, Mr. Arteaga said.
Even with the Central Terminal inspection area closed temporarily, the new North Terminal inspection still will cut wait times to an hour or less, he said. And those times should be reduced even more when the Central Terminal inspection area reopens.
For four to five years, passengers arriving on international flights at the North Terminal have been directed into the Central Terminal inspection area, a facility that also serves the Central Terminal's international passengers.
The combined crowds have led to long lines and complaints from travelers, Mr. Arteaga said, but those kinds of problems are expected to dissipate with the opening of the new inspection area.
"Our old Concourse E facility had reached capacity," said Miami International spokesman Greg Chin, "so at certain times, we reached a point where we couldn't process them at all. We had to send some passengers to temporary facilities."
Each of the airport's North, Central and South terminals has a Federal Inspection Services area.
The North Terminal inspection area has 72 passport control lanes, where travelers are identified and can be fingerprinted and photographed, among other things.
In addition, the facility has six Global Entry automated kiosks, which offer faster processing for a fee from pre-approved travelers who have been deemed "low risk."
The Central Terminal inspection area has 32 to 36 passport control lanes, and the South Terminal inspection area has about 40 lanes, according to Mr. Arteaga.
The North Terminal inspection area covers three levels and 400,000 square feet. Workers are now putting finishing touches on the facility. Just before it opens, Homeland Security will conduct a thorough security sweep of the area, Mr. Arteaga said.
For added security during its operation, the facility will feature 25 inline explosive detection units, costing about $1 million each, to x-ray every piece of checked luggage.
The Federal Inspection Services area project was financed as part of the county-owned airport's $2.9 billion North Terminal construction project.
The new inspection area has the capacity to process up to 3,600 people an hour, and will mainly serve passengers coming in on international flights by American Airlines, which handles about 70% of passenger traffic at Miami International.
In 2010, Homeland Security announced it was enacting enhanced security measures for all air carriers with international flights to the US.
In cooperation with the United Nations, the department said, air passengers traveling to the US might notice enhanced security and random screening measures throughout the passenger check-in and boarding process, including use of explosives trace detection, advanced imaging technology, canine teams and pat-downs.
"The new measures utilize real-time, threat-based intelligence along with multiple, random layers of security, both seen and unseen, to more effectively mitigate evolving terrorist threats," Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said in a statement.
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