FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WANE) – Many smaller airports across the country don’t have commercial flights coming and going all night long. But, when the flights stop, the terminals don’t necessarily close. Some stay open 24/7 even though they’re empty inside.
The last commercial flight into the Fort Wayne International Airport usually lands around midnight and the ticket counters for the first flights out in the morning don’t open until 4 a.m. That leaves several hours where the terminal is open and basically empty.
“We are a 24/7 airport. Our terminal building stays open to help those who arrive late or don’t have a ride yet and they’re waiting. We don’t want to put them out on the street,” Scott Hinderman, Director of Airports for the Fort Wayne-Allen County Airport Authority, said.
Over the last several months, 15 Finds Out made two trips to the Fort Wayne airport in the middle of the night and was able to roam around for an hour, going places you aren’t allowed to go during the day, without ever seeing a security guard.
Watch 15 Finds Out’s first overnight trip to the airport:
In the first trip at 2 a.m., 15 Finds Out went behind the airline ticket counters and through all the TSA scanners. The security gate is behind the equipment. Some drawers in the visitor center were unlocked and even some car keys were within reach in the taxi booth.
The door to the stairs up to the Airport Authority office was open, but the main office door was locked. All the baggage claim conveyor belts did have the metal gates pulled down behind the flaps and all the doors marked “No trespassing, unauthorized persons will be prosecuted” were also locked.
Hinderman was not aware of 15 Finds Out’s visit when we showed him video of our trek through the terminal. But, he wasn’t alarmed.
“It worked perfectly,” Hinderman said. “You guys came out and you walked around the public building. You got nowhere you weren’t supposed to be. I’m pleased with what you guys were able to do and where you couldn’t go. The areas we had to protect, you were unable to get to. So, from the footage you showed me, our system’s working excellent.”
Hinderman said he wasn’t concerned that someone can walk right up to the TSA equipment and the computers and phones at the ticket counters. He explained the TSA and airlines rent space from the airport, similar to a store in a mall. Therefore, it’s up to the TSA and airlines to secure their property.
“If you did something and the camera caught you, the TSA should handle that. That’s not the airport authority’s space,” he said. “If you would have done something wrong we would have been notified through our access control system and we would have taken appropriate actions. If you want to go up to the ticket counter or play with the airline’s computers those are the airlines’ computers not the airports.”
During that interview, Hinderman invited us back any time, saying the terminal is a public building. So, a few months later, 15 Finds Out took him up on that offer. This time a photographer not wearing any WANE-TV logos went in to place post-it notes around the terminal. The notes said to call 15 Finds Out if found.
While the photographer was inside, an SUV marked ‘police’ drove by the outside of the terminal, but the WANE photographer never saw a security officer inside the terminal. Two passengers were inside the welcome center area sleeping on couches at the time.
Watch the WANE photographer’s entire trip through the airport:
After placing all the post-its inside, 15 Finds Out shot other video in the parking lot and by the fence surrounding the airfield. The security officer was watching us shoot video from his SUV on the tarmac and then drove off with his lights on, but never talked to the WANE crew.
The next morning, the newsroom got a phone call.
“We found several post-its. They were kind of hidden. We found them about an hour after you put them there. We actually watched you put them around the building,” Hinderman said. “You were doing your investigation and we’re going to let you do it. We were monitoring. We knew what you were doing. We knew you weren’t going to be a bad person. We had you, followed you throughout the building and then collected the post-its.”
Hinderman said the security guard left the terminal building a few minutes before we went inside. 15 Finds Out asked for a copy of the security video, but the airport said “video is considered sensitive security information and is not to be released.”
One post-it was placed under the table where you get your carry-on bags after you go through security. It was past the body scanners and metal detectors, which seems concerning had ill-intentions. What if someone went in overnight to hide a weapon past the security checkpoints during the day.
Hinderman didn’t think that would be possible.
“The [TSA equipment] is screened and scanned and all areas are inspected prior to operation of screening passengers,” he said.
In Fort Wayne, the gate that comes down when TSA isn’t screening passengers is behind the security equipment. Some airports have those gates in front of the scanners so no one can access it.
“There’s nothing that would violate security if someone would touch their equipment. They calibrate it ever morning. The TSA is very involved in when we did the project of putting that security door in,” Hinderman said.
The TSA gave 15 Finds Out the following statement:
The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) has complete confidence in the safety and security of Fort Wayne International Airport. After flight operations have ceased for the day, a gate is brought down and all access to the sterile area is secured. While TSA equipment is accessible after hours, the area is patrolled by the Public Safety Division and monitored by CCTV. Anyone attempting to vandalize or damage our equipment would be caught. TSA performs calibration and tests on all screening equipment every morning prior to their use to ensure they function properly and meet our standards.
“You gave them a good penetration test,” Jeff Slotnick, president of the security risk management firm Setracon, said.
Slotnick said while security may not always be easily visible in the middle of the night, or even during the day, the security sees us.
“You’re never really undetected,” Slotnick said. “There are plenty of airport security systems recording your every movement watching exactly what it is that you do. The technology can even be communicated remotely to an iPad or remote location that you might not be aware of.”
Hinderman wouldn’t give many specifics about the airport’s security plan. He did explain that the airport police officer makes rounds across the airfield and tarmac overnight too, not just in the terminal building, and that rotation is always changing so no one can pick up on a pattern.
“The airport authority is extremely secure,” Hinderman said. “We didn’t test the system by doing anything actually illegal, but it’s comforting to know our technology actually worked. We got alerts you were in the building. And we could follow things on camera and if you were a bad guy we could take corrective action.”
Fort Wayne’s airport also passed both TSA and Federal Aviation Administration inspections with zero discrepancies every year for the last three years.
Not every airport is open when commercial flights stop. Of 25 similar-sized airports, eight of them close overnight and 17 keep their terminals open like Fort Wayne.
Thursday at 6 p.m., Airport Insecurity continues as 15 Finds Out explores what access there is at other 24/7 airports and how it compares to Fort Wayne.