FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WANE) – While it’s never as crowded as some major airports, the Fort Wayne International Airport can get busy during the day. There are 50 scheduled flights coming and going nearly every day. But, in the middle of the night, when the commercial flights stop, the terminal turns into a ghost town.
Even though security doesn’t stop, it’s not always as visible in the terminal building.
“We have three people who are law enforcement officers on the airfield and around, 24 hours a day. We have over 4,000 acres and in the middle of the night our fixed base operations has more activity going on than the [terminal] building, so we have security monitoring much more than just the terminal building,” Scott Hinderman, Director of Airports for the Fort Wayne-Allen County Airport Authority, said.
15 Finds Out took an overnight trip to the airport and at 2 a.m. roamed around for an hour without seeing a security guard. We were able to go behind the ticket counters and through the TSA security equipment.
But, Hinderman wasn’t concerned that people have access to those areas overnight.
“It’s more concerning to me if we would be locking the building when people want to come in and out and we’d be unwelcoming. If someone wants to come into our building in the middle of the night they can’t get anywhere because we have doors that are secure. You can’t get anywhere behind the ticket counters, those doors are secure,” he said.
While we got kicked out from behind the ticket counters during the day, and couldn’t get to the TSA equipment without a ticket, 15 Finds Out was not able to breach what’s known as the airfield overnight. All the doors that have to be locked by law, were.
“Everything you did in your clip our system worked well. We protected the airfield,” Hinderman said.
On a second trip, we did see a police SUV drive by the outside of terminal and flip on his lights on the tarmac, but our cameras never saw an officer inside the terminal while we were there and were not questioned by an officer.
“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,” Hinderman said.
But, how does Fort Wayne compare to other airports? 15 Finds Out called 25 similar-sized airports and 17 of them also keep their terminals open 24/7. Eight of them close for a three to four hours overnight when the commercial flights stop.
15 Finds Out sent TV crews in other cities into their airports to see if they also have the same kind of access in the overnight hours as Fort Wayne’s airport.
The WFXR crew was able to walk around the terminal in the Roanoke-Blacksburg Regional Airport seemingly undetected. They were able to get behind the airline ticket counters and the TSA equipment was not gated off. While they saw a passenger sleeping on the floor in a hallway, they did not see a security officer.
After their overnight trip, the reporter questioned the airport about their trip, but first, showed them 15 Finds Out’s video of the trek through the Fort Wayne terminal.
“It’s concerning for me for that airport. I think those would be a little different here,” Brad Boettcher, the Marketing and Public Relations Administrator for the Roanoke-Blacksburg airport, said. “You’re on camera everywhere here. I’d be surprised if someone would be able to come in here for more than a couple of minutes and not be noticed.”
But the WFXR crews had already taken their overnight trip to the terminal. Boettcher later said they were being watched on the security cameras.
The Shreveport Regional Airport is one of two airports in Louisiana with 247 control towers and the airport police are also on duty 24/7. But, like in Fort Wayne, they’re not always in the terminal when it’s empty overnight.
“Also travelling all the property at the airport. So not just property here at the terminal, but our airport owns other property not connected to this property,” Mark Crawford, the Marking and Public Relations Manager for the Shreveport Airport Authority, said.
When the KTAL cameraman went to that airport in the middle of the night, he was also able to walk around without being stopped. He did see someone cleaning the floors, but not a security guard. Only small chains were there to keep someone from going behind the ticket counters. The TSA equipment, though, was behind a gate and not accessible.
Just like in Fort Wayne, the airport said it’s up to TSA and the airlines to decide how to secure their areas.
“The ticket counters are leased by each airline, so that is airline space not airport space,” Crawford said. “So, if they don’t want something out, they would be the ones to secure that not us.”
Green Bay, WI
It was a similar story in the 24/7 Green Bay- Austin Straubel International Airport. The WFRV crew had access to the ticketing area and the checked bag scanning system, but the passenger TSA screening area was gated off.
“There’s airport security staff here 24/7 and they can respond to this building in a matter of minutes if there’s something going on here that shouldn’t be,” Tom Miller, the Airport Director of Austin Straubel Airport, said.
Nearby Appleton International Airport also has its terminal open all night. The WFRV reporter could get to the airline computers and ticket counters as well as the TSA scanners.
Both airports said while the reporter didn’t see any security officers while they walked around, he was being watched.
“You were here on the 27th of September, arrived around 2:17 a.m. You walked around the terminal building, show some video on various floors, including on the ground lobby, and then you exited around 2:28 a.m. That was observed and somebody watched it,” Miller said.
Abe Weber, the director at the Appleton Airport said he got several emails and phone calls that the reporter was in the terminal.
“We certainly saw you,” Weber said. “We always have somebody watching. Whether you see it or not, it’s always here.”
Some airports do close their terminal buildings when the commercial flights stop. At the Evansville Regional Airport, the terminal is locked up from after the last flight until 3:45 the next morning.
When WEHT’s photographer made a trip in the middle of the night, the final passengers were leaving and then the doors were locked up. Some passengers were still waiting outside for their ride home to arrive. Before the outside doors were closed, though, the cameraman could access the ticket counters, but the TSA equipment inside was gated off.
The airport declined an interview about why it closes overnight and wouldn’t comment on security procedures, but sent this statement:
Security is a collaboration between airports and the federal government, law enforcement and airline partners, which includes numerous security systems – both seen and unseen – and approved by the TSA. Rest assured, maintaining the safety and security of the traveling public is the top priority for EVV. – Leslie Fella, Public Information Officer for Evansville-Vanderburgh Airport Authority District
15 Finds Out traveled to Kalamazoo/Battle Creek International Airport. When we arrived at 3:30 a.m., the outside doors to the terminal were locked, but the sheriff’s deputy on duty saw us and opened the doors for us. She said she usually opens the doors around 4 a.m. when passengers usually start arriving for the first flights.
Inside, the TSA equipment was also behind a gate and didn’t open until agents arrived around 4:30 a.m. An airport staff member told 15 Finds out that that area was just redesigned in 2011 and that’s when the gates were added in front of and behind the TSA security area.
South Bend, Indiana
South Bend International Airport closes the main terminal overnight, but keeps an adjacent, smaller bus terminal open.
“There are bathroom facilities, drinking water is available, chairs. If it’s winter time, you can get out of the cold,” Mike Daigle, the Executive Director of South Bend International Airport, said.
When 15 Finds Out arrived at the airport, the last flight’s arrival time had been delayed until 1:07 a.m. so the terminal was still open. The ticket counters were accessible, but there was a gate in front of the TSA equipment. We did not see a security guard while we were shooting video inside.
Once all the passengers had gathered their luggage, the security guard did then lock the outside doors to the terminal at 1:35 a.m.
“We do have staff here 24/7 and have airport law enforcement, licensed police officers in the state of Indiana, on the property 24/7. If you by chance are in the building, you are being watched,” Daigle said. “You see where you think cameras are, and is it really a camera or just a bubble? You don’t know. There are cameras you can’t see too.”
Daigle said they added the security gates around the TSA equipment in 2012 as part of a concourse redesign.
“But, I’ve been at multiple airports all over the country of all sizes where the TSA equipment is out in the open. TSA staff arrive early and verifies all the equipment is functional and do their mandatory tests,” Daigle explained.
National Spokesperson for the TSA, Mike England, said there are gates in front of and behind the security scanners at the South Bend and Indianapolis airports and in front of the equipment in Evansville, making it inaccessible when not being used by TSA agents. But, when asked if a gate should be added in front of the scanners in Fort Wayne, he responded, “As I said previously, we have complete confidence in the safety and security of Fort Wayne International Airport.”
Daigle, who has worked in about half a dozen airports in his career, also wasn’t surprised by 15 Finds Out’s overnight trip to Fort Wayne’s airport.
“Nothing you couldn’t do a well over 100 airports in the country, to go through behind the ticket counters. The thing I did notice is the doors that should be locked appeared to all be locked. I didn’t see anything concerning,” Daigle said.
While no airport officials seemed to have any issues with where 15 Finds Out explored in the airport, we also didn’t do anything illegal. We did not cause any damage to the equipment out in the open or take anything from any drawers or desks.
But, what if someone with ill-intentions was the one roaming around?
“If people want to do ill will, I don’t’ think you can stop them. Just because you lock a door doesn’t mean you can stop that activity,” Daigle said.
Back in Fort Wayne, Hinderman added that we weren’t confronted specifically because we were not criminals.
“We were monitoring you. If you were a bad guy, we could take corrective action,” Hinderman said.
Attempted Attack in Asheville
But, on October 6, someone did try to cause harm at a small airport. Asheville Regional Airport in North Carolina is one of the airports on 15 Finds Out contact list. While its terminal is also open 24/7, a homemade bomb was left on the curb outside the terminal. It sat there undetected for about six hours.
“To have someone drop a bomb off at 12:37 at night and nobody finds it until 7 the next morning and it was set to go off at 6:30 when the first flight leaves, and that didn’t happen, that’s a great example of being lucky,” Brad Boettcher from the Roanoke airport said.
It was a scare that reminds airports to keep reviewing security policies.
“These are things that from a management team, we’re constantly having discussions about. Our cleaning staff is trained to be aware of those things,” Boettcher said.
Hinderman couldn’t go into specifics, but said Fort Wayne is already always evaluating the security plan.
“We’re constantly making sure we are refreshing our procedures and protocols so we can be in front of the bad guys as best we can,” he said. “We have not had an incident in the ten years I’ve been here. We are changing security all the time. There’s nothing constant. We move them around so we can’t be patterned. We do that on purpose so we can’t be anticipated.”
One thing everyone from every airport did all agree on is that, to a degree, security is up to all of us. Airports can have systems in place and try to prevent and react to crime, but the Homeland Security saying is important too. Wherever you are, whether it’s an airport or not, if you see something, say something.