News 8 investigation questions Love Field security

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by DAVID SCHECHTER

Bio | Email | Follow: @davidschechter

WFAA

Posted on November 23, 2010 at 11:00 PM

Updated Wednesday, Nov 24 at 1:27 AM

NEWS 8 INVESTIGATES

DALLAS — National attention was focused on Dallas Love Field when a pickup truck crashed through a fence and drove onto the tarmac on August 19.

The public was led to believe it was an isolated incident, but a News 8 investigation has determined it was not.

Airport records show the Love Field fence has been breached, or damaged, almost 20 times in less than five years. And experts say what happened this summer exposed a vulnerability found at airports across the country.

New air traffic control tapes also show that pilots on the ground — their planes loaded with passengers — were unsure of what to do during the August incident.

PILOT: "Tower, what's the protocol for something like this? If he's coming at us, can we move?"

CONTROLLER: "Just hold position."

"There's no protocol. There's no policy for that," said Denny Kelly, an aviation industry expert and former pilot.

The day after the breach, Love Field Aviation Director Dan Weber addressed the media. "What happened yesterday was something that just doesn't happen every day," he said.

But News 8 has found that since 2006, the Love Field perimeter fence has been damaged 17 times, frequently on its north side.

That number includes five times where a vehicle went through the perimeter fence and onto airport property.

Airport records obtained by News 8 also show the barrier around Love Field was breached on these dates:

  • January 2006 ("...a vehicle had driven through the perimeter fence." It was not gone by the time police arrived.)
  • March 2006 (A second vehicle "...went through the fence.")
  • September 2008
  • February 2009

The fifth time it happened, in August, was shown on national TV.

But in every case except the one caught on tape, records show police either didn't know when the vehicles went in, when they came out, or how long they were inside the fence.

Love Field declined to answer security questions, but a spokesman said its program meets minimum Transportation Safety Administration standards.

Kelly said those TSA standards are inadequate. "Airport perimeter security is a national problem," he said. "It's not just Love Field."

The five busiest airports in the U.S. — including Dallas/Fort Worth International — denied our requests for information about breaches of their perimeter fences.

Chicago O’Hare, Denver, Atlanta, Los Angeles and D/FW all cited national security concerns.

But McAllen Airport will talk about its perimeter security. It is the first to line its fence with this fiber-optic cable. When the wire shakes or breaks, an alarm sounds.

The system is capable of pinpointing a breach to within 80 feet.

"We actually did have one incident, and we actually had the suspect in custody within three minutes," said Buck Taft, McAllen Airport security coordinator.

How long would that take at a major airport?

In the course of reporting this story, News 8 shot video, on three occasions at a location no more than 500 feet from an active runway at Love Field.

On two occasions, our camera recorded for 40 minutes, right next to the fence, and no one said a word.

All of which makes you wonder: What happens next time if no one is watching?

And what if the driver's goal is something more than simply evading arrest?

E-mail dschechter@wfaa.com

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