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Safety and security key aeronautics priorities

The ‘Aeronautics Days 2006’ conference in Vienna featured press briefings and thematic sessions on air transport safety and security, key issues as the aeronautics sector looks to further safeguard passengers, planes and ground facilities.

Airplane on tarmac
© Peter Gutierrez

“Ensuring the safety of air transport is an important priority for our citizens,” said Tjien Khoen Liem of the European Commission’s Industry and Enterprise Directorate-General. Speaking to reporters at a special press conference on air safety and security, he stressed the dual importance of strong safety measures. “It’s not just about keeping passengers and crew members safe, although this is obviously a primary concern, but it is also about keeping our industry strong and competitive.”

Security first

Tjien Khoen Liem
Tjien Khoen Liem

The events of 11 September 2001 and the more recent attacks in Madrid and London underline the importance of real-time surveillance capabilities in protecting against hostile actions, as well as the potential economic impact when we fail.

The EU-funded OPTAG project (Improving airport efficiency, security and passenger flow by enhanced passenger monitoring) has brought together a consortium of experts in cameras and digital imaging, plus ‘radio frequency identification’ (RFID) tagging. Its goal is to improve airport efficiency and security by keeping track of the locations of passengers before boarding.

“We are a small, specialist design company with particular skills in application specific integrated circuit (ASIC) design and RFID,” explained Bob Lloyd of Innovision Research & Technology plc. Speaking at a special session on ‘Ensuring customer satisfaction, safety and security’, he explained how the proposed OPTAG system will enable the location of checked in passengers who are either missing or late, reducing passenger-related delays and speeding up aircraft turnaround. The system could also form an essential component of threat assessment systems, enabling identification of suspicious passenger movements or closer monitoring of individuals considered to pose a risk.

Bob Lloyd
Bob Lloyd

OPTAG has now completed two years of its three-year programme and the final result will consist of a demonstration of prototype tag readers and cameras under controlled conditions at the Debrecen airport in Hungary. “We have been working very hard on a number of technical issues,” said Lloyd, “pushing our know-how to the limit, and it looks like we are now having some success.”

Taking on in-flight threats

The SAFEE project (Security of aircraft in the future European environment) has been investigating and develop technologies aimed at improving security for commercial air travellers, focusing on on-aircraft systems.

“Protecting an aircraft against hijacking means building up several layers of defence,” explained SAFEE coordinator Daniel Gaultier of Sagem Défense Sécurité. “It’s like building a castle. The first level of defence involves security procedures on the ground – not letting a dangerous individual get on the plane in the first place. If that level fails, on-board systems come into play. These are the systems we are concerned with.”

Daniel Gaultier
Daniel Gaultier

Types of attack to be addressed by SAFEE include classic hijacking situations, September 11-type scenarios where an aircraft is commandeered and used as a weapon, and futuristic scenarios involving electronic jamming and hacking of computer systems.

“The SAFEE system is designed in an open and modular way,” explained Gaultier, “This means we can install the specific sub-systems required by customers, and it remains flexible enough to encompass new and modified subsystems in the future.”

Keeping it real

“There are no easy answers to the problem of air transport safety,” concluded Michael Nestrenko of Protection Totale Engineering. “We have to look at the entire spectrum of potential solutions, from ground to air systems and from active and layered defence against criminality and terrorism to more passive surveillance technologies. Above all, we must resist the’ tyranny of the precautionary principle’, a real threat in terms of costs and economic slowdown.”