Turning the corporate jet into a real flying fortress

 - October 8, 2007, 10:05 AM

Security comes from a combination of policy, procedure and technology–nuts and bolts. All three have received their fair share of attention since September 11, but the demand for security hardware is the most tangible manifestation of how aviation has changed. Pre-existing examples of technology–from sophisticated electronic surveillance systems to simple wheel locks–have been improved. New ideas, software and systems have been developed, some of which remain secret. There are suites to protect individual aircraft, and there are systems to make entire flight department areas and FBOs more secure.

Securaplane of Tucson, Ariz., is an industry leader in individual aircraft security systems. More than 600 aircraft are flying with Securaplane systems on board, ranging in price from about $35,000 to more than $100,000, depending on the level of sophistication. The 11-lb Ultra-Lite system is the least expensive and includes door-panel and wheelwell sensors to detect intrusions. Designed for helicopters and light to midsize business jets, its digital alarm indicator mounts inside an external door and has a 10-character scrolling LED display that the company claims is easy to learn. The master control display unit permanently stores more than 1,600 events, including arm/disarm times, as well as the time and endurance of any intrusion. The battery pack is good for three to five days, and a solar panel option extends battery life even further.

The System 450, next in the line, incorporates all the features of the Ultra-Lite, but its standard batteries last eight to 10 days. An optional add-on battery pack extends that time to as long as 26 days, and the solar-panel option even further. This system can also handle the addition of surveillance cameras. An intrusion would trigger the camera, which then records what it sees from its vantage point. Securaplane systems are capable of accommodating multiple cameras.

Finally, the System 500 incorporates all the features of the less expensive systems, but adds a remote UHF transceiver for arming, disarming or interrogating the system. The transceiver has a range of up to 10 mi. The batteries of the System 500 don’t last quite as long as those of the System 450, with the standard set lasting five to seven days, the optional add-on battery packs as long as 20 days and the solar panel enhancing that time further.

The Securaplane spokeswoman said inquiries came in a tidal wave the first month after September 11. “Interest has definitely faded since then,” she said. Still, she reported that the company is receiving more orders from service and completion centers, a more solid indication that operators are taking security more seriously–at least on the domestic side. Securaplane systems are typically installed during major maintenance or refurbishment, so one firm order from a service center is a much more tangible evidence of increased interest than dozens of telephone inquiries, she said.

For those operators who decide they do not need to know exactly who intruded on their aircraft and when, there are security tape and wax sealants that can reveal if a door or panel was opened. For decades some corporate flight departments, concerned over corporate espionage, have been using tape and wax. In most cases, the concern is over privacy rather than physical threat. Still, particularly for overseas operations, sealant tape and/or wax have provided peace of mind for many operators.

Two of the largest suppliers of security tape are Imar (www.imarcorp.com) of Bethesda, Md., and CGM Security Solutions (www.tamper.com) of Somerset, N.J. Imar sells its security tape in strips of 88 for about $100. CGM sells directly to end users in minimum quantities of 1,000 for about $250, or in smaller quantities through distributors such as Thomas’s Aircraft Supply of New Windsor, N.Y., and Air Security International of Houston.

A different concern is actual aircraft theft, demonstrated dramatically by the Florida teenager who stole a Cessna 172 and flew it into a building in Tampa, Fla., on January 5. Though not generally of concern to business aircraft, the fear of unauthorized use of parked airplanes led at least one East Coast FBO to require propeller locks for all transient aircraft with propellers. If you didn’t have one, they would rent one to you for $10 per night.

At the other end of the sophistication scale, Gulfstream has an option available to install an electronic countermeasure (ECM) stinger tailcone to its aircraft for those who have reason to fear air-to-air or surface-to-air missile attacks.

Besides sealing off parked aircraft from intrusion by bad guys, there is the added issue of protecting ramps and hangars of corporate flight departments and FBOs. In the case of a Fortune 500 operation, corporate security standards most likely dictated sophisticated security surveillance long before September 11. It may be presumed that those systems have been ratcheted up since then, but by their very nature they are more apt to be kept confidential.

Smaller operators and/or FBOs have been holding their collective breath waiting for what mandates may come down from the TSA as far as security standards for their particular situation. No one knows what levels of security may be required at what size airports. Even the simple decision to put up a fence raises questions–how tall? How strong? How far from the ramp, runway, fuel farm and parked aircraft?

Package Deal

One company has taken a bold proactive approach to supplying site security for aviation businesses. Navigance, based in Tulsa, Okla., was started long before September 11 with an entirely different idea in mind. Company president Bob Jandebeur, former owner of an FBO in Tulsa, had in mind to incorporate surveillance cameras with automatic weather observation stations (AWOS). He told AIN, “The idea was that you could ultimately have a datalinked image of the airport environment transmitted to the cockpit. Wouldn’t that be great for a pilot on an approach in weather close to minimums?”

After September 11, Jandebeur pulled together five strategic partner companies to form a comprehensive matrix of surveillance (Samsung cameras and recording equipment); weather observing (Belfort AWOS systems); datalink (Teaco fiber-optic data network systems); biometrics (Sagem fingerprint reading access systems); and overall platforms (Mobile Equipment International, manufacturer of service platforms, vans, trailers, shelters and towers).

The result is a package that can provide an overview of a hangar, ramp, terminal or any other area on a 24-hr basis, record digital images over a 30-day span, provide warnings of unauthorized entry, control access to sensitive areas with fingerprint readers and allow customers to have access to those images over the Internet, so a flight department manager/chief pilot away from home base can tap into the cameras in his hangar.

The systems start at $40,000, but the final price depends on how many cameras are involved. Jandebeur estimates that an entire airport could be secured for $200,000, including an incorporated AWOS system. The wireless nature of the data network means adding more cameras is far less complicated than for systems where wires must be run to new camera locations. Jandebeur’s plan is to make the systems available on a lease basis, with roughly 15 percent paid up front and monthly payments of as low as $1,100.

Three beta systems are currently in operation in Salt Lake City, Oklahoma City and a corporate hangar at Teterboro (N.J.) Airport. Besides the three beta projects, Navigance now has six other customers and expects as many as several hundred by year-end.

“There are 4,000 airports without AWOS systems,” said Jandebeur. “That was what got me started with this idea. Now the interest has been tremendous.” Asked if it wasn’t premature for an airport or corporate hangar to buy into a security system before TSA standards are set, Jandebeur said, “The TSA itself isn’t sure what to do. We want to be proactive–put in a secure system that we know works and show the TSA. Should additional requirements be required, Navigance will agree to upgrade the systems at only the additional cost. What we really need is something with enough sizzle for the general public, but financially practical for airport and aircraft operators.”

Jandebeur admitted that a lot of alarm companies are approaching airports and corporate hangars, and they have good products. He is counting on his expert understanding of the aircraft operations and FBO businesses to give Navigance a leg up on the competition. He said he has already presented his product to ExxonMobil and got a favorable response. At press time he was set to present to another fuel supplier and a major FBO chain, all of whom are considering making the systems available or buying them outright for their operations.