Manufacturers are offering airlines a wide range of options to improve security through cabin surveillance

Many of the most significant advances in aviation safety have been the result of regulation. The same is likely to prove true of aviation security. But operators have often resisted regulations that impose additional costs without offering operational benefits.

As the industry works to implement the recommendations of the US Department of Transportation's rapid-response team on aircraft security, manufacturers are queuing up to offer solutions, some of which meet only the near-term need for in-flight protection, while others also offer a growth path to advanced operational capabilities.

US airlines reacted rapidly to the response team's recommendation in the wake of 11 September that flightdeck doors be reinforced. Industry moved equally quickly to propose improvements ranging from secure transponders to cabin video surveillance and security messaging systems.

As well as recommending new design standards for secure doors, and retrofitting of the entire US fleet within a year of their approval, the response team also urged industry to evaluate the use of video cameras to view the area outside the flightdeck and, potentially, to monitor cabin activity.

Although the response team made no recommendations on whether or how to proceed, cabin surveillance "absolutely will be required", says Delta Air Lines' senior vice-president, technical operations, Ray Valeika. "Cabin awareness is as big an issue as cockpit doors," he adds.

Delta moved quickly to flight test aircraft security upgrades, equipping a Boeing MD-88 with a cabin video surveillance system for in-service trials. Valeika says the aim was to see how closed-circuit television (CCTV) performs in an aircraft. "In the next phase, we will work with government on how many cameras are needed, where they are located and whether surveillance will be overt or covert," he says.

Delta selected Securaplane Technologies' Cabin Alert and Monitoring System (CAMS) for the operational evaluation. Launched after 11 September, the CAMS combines certificated systems, including low-light cameras, "invisible" infrared light sources, a wireless crew-alert system and a cockpit-mounted video monitor. The wireless system allows any the crew to alert the flightdeck to a cabin emergency, while the cockpit display is a pull-out screen that can be used "on demand", says Valeika.

Room for improvement

Tucson,Arizona-based Securaplane, a leader in business aircraft security systems, was not alone in responding rapidly to the need to boost airline security. In November, in-flight entertainment (IFE) systems supplier Matsushita Avionics Systems (MAS) unveiled an onboard video surveillance system that could fly within four months; and an integrated digital alert and surveillance system that could be ready for service within 12-18 months.

The near-term system includes up to four day/night cameras and a certificated touchscreen monitor capable of displaying up to four video inputs. Flight attendants can trigger a wireless "panic button" to silently alert the cockpit. The longer-term solution provides expanded camera options, digital storage of video and the automatic transmission of alerts to the ground via satellite. Flight attendants will be provided with security monitoring stations.

MAS's move into aviation security is motivated by the fact that much of the equipment required is already developed and certificated under its IFE product line. Since unveiling the systems, the company has been working with airlines to gauge their interest. "There is not yet a clearly defined market, and we are continuing to evaluate market requirements. It's anyone's guess how this is going to play out," says Bothell, Washington-based MAS.

Facing competition from all corners for the emerging security market, established avionics manufacturers are trying to capitalise on their long-term relationships with the airlines by offering solutions with growth capability. "There are an ungodly number of people marketing low-end analogue CCTV," says Bob Geers, business development manager for Rockwell Collins' air transport division.

Although the US avionics manufacturer recognises that airlines initially are looking at low-end systems enabling cockpit crews to see the other side of the secure door, the company's Video Intelligence System (VIS) is seen as an opportunity to bring the "electronic flight bag" into the cockpit, paving the way for electronic flight manuals and other operational benefits.

"Our entry-level system is a step up," says Geers. "Instead of a small LCD on the back wall of the cockpit, our system is dual-use from the outset." Manufacturers have talked about electronic flight bags for years, "but we couldn't justify them until the airlines went totally paperless", he says. "Here is an opportunity to add a display to the flightdeck, something that comes along once every 10 years, and it should not be wasted on one-purpose displays."

In Collins' concept, cabin surveillance would be the electronic flight bag's first application. "Then we'd put the manuals on it," says Geers. For its VIS, the company has selected a ruggedised Fujitsu pen-tablet computer running Microsoft Windows. Analogue camera images are converted to digital by a video server unit and sent via ethernet to the tablet. "Now the images are digital, there is no need for zoom or pan on the cameras, We use wide-angle lenses and use software to zoom and pan electronically," says Geers.


Collins recommends that airlines fit a minimum of four cameras, two providing different views of the area behind the flightdeck door, one in the galley, and a fourth looking down the aisle. The first growth step is to add a wireless local-area network. This will allow airlines to install the electronic flight bag without pushing wiring through the cockpit bulkhead. Flight attendants, and even sky marshals, will be able to view the video on wireless pocket computers, which can also be used to access passenger information. The cockpit can be alerted to a cabin emergency via wireless pagers or portable phones.

The video server can be expanded to handle up to 22 cameras, including those mounted externally to monitor flight controls, taxiing, and even the ramp area and cargo bay. The next step involves transmitting captured video as well as cockpit voice and flight data recorder information to the ground via VHF datalink or high-speed satellite communications. Downlinking would be triggered by the crew entering the hijack code into the transponder. Video, audio and flight data would have to be compressed, but Geers says it should be possible to identify someone on the aircraft using the downlinked video. "The cameras have good enough resolution for face identification, and they are extraordinarily good in low ambient light," he says.

Geers says an entry-level VIS can be installed within 90 days, while the first growth steps could be available within six months. But the timing of this market will depend on the airlines.

Source: Flight International