An Emphasis on Security

 - September 19, 2006, 8:33 AM

Some states have taken a hard line on GA airport security. For example, Alabama has made the TSA voluntary guidelines a state regulation because of an incident in which a drunken teenager stole an airplane, according to NASAO president Henry Ogrodzinski. Public airports that refuse to comply lose their state funding.

“I think things are much more secure than they were pre-9/11,” he said. “I think we have to remain vigilant, however, because the recent activities we’ve seen in Iraq and Iran and Afghanistan truly support the idea that there are radical Islamic terrorists out there who want to take advantage of a chink in the armor.”

Zamperini Field (TOA) in Torrance, Calif., also takes airport security seriously. Like many small GA airports, it was in need of more secure fencing and other security improvements, including cameras, in the aftermath of 9/11. The airport commission was well into the project by August 2003, although the TSA guidelines were published in May 2004. The city says it took the guidelines into consideration, but many decisions had already been made.

Airport manager Shant Megerdichian said the timeline is not certain, as the design process continues. Several cost issues have arisen, and the airport staff is looking at some design considerations regarding the cameras. One main issue is the cost of wireless versus an underground conduit. The city has appropriated approximately $865,000 for the project.

Megerdichian said the project originally called for underground conduit, but the wireless system might be more cost-efficient. Several weeks ago a vendor demonstrated a wireless system for the airport. The decision has not been made, so the design is not complete.

The vendor for the cameras has not been determined. When the design for the project is complete, it will be bid with the airport’s specifications. The manager said individual vendors will be invited to bid for the job, and the low bid is usually awarded. At the time of the award of the contract–which needs Torrance City Council approval–the vendors will be specified.

TOA sits along the busy Pacific Coast Highway, and its security plan calls for eight-foot fencing on three sides of the airport, but without barbed wire on top. That was an original specification and it has not changed. The fence line along Airport Drive, in front of the FBOs, specifies an eight-foot decorative wrought iron fence, also an original spec and also sans barbed wire.

“My opinion is that the fence will be easy to breach, yet we will have secure entrances and better lighting, video and so on” said airport commissioner Bill Tymczyszyn, who described it as two steps forward and one step back.

“For some unknown reason, they will be doing away with the current barbed-wire-topped fence and going to eight-foot fencing without barbed wire. We pointed out that FAA guidance material recommended more secure fencing, but of course, that was advisory, not mandatory.”

Million Air Cleveland at Burke Lakefront Airport was one of the first FBOs to adopt closed-circuit television and other security enhancements after 9/11, according to CEO Tom Slavin. Now he and facilities manager Paul Panehal have developed a camera system that sits in environmental chambers on top of the Million Air fuel trucks and tugs to get a closer view of suspicious activities or even incidents of hangar rash.

The mobile wireless cameras can pan, tilt and zoom to capture details of activities that would be lost with current surveillance technology. They can be automatically controlled to pan 180 degrees or can be managed with a joystick and viewed by as many as 30 people in the hangar, the office or on the ramp. The cameras are all linked to a central computer and the images are recorded on a disk and stored for 30 days.

The patent is pending and Slavin conceded that Million Air is still working to overcome one problem with the system. Sometimes bumps on the airport surface cause the camera to pan around 360 degrees, which twists up the wiring until it breaks. Once that problem is overcome, Million Air will offer the system nationwide.

“AIG told us they think this is the most significant contribution to ramp safety and security that they have ever seen,” said Slavin. “The reality is, 75 percent of what we are doing is at a distance from where the six [permanent] cameras are located. The farther away it gets, obviously the less resolution you have.”

Slavin said the GA airport handles a number of airliners that carry professional and college sports teams into the Cleveland area. The vehicle-mounted cameras will provide up-close views of the fueling and loading processes, including activities of passengers and crew.