Million Air Cleveland installs new level of high-tech security

 - May 6, 2008, 11:08 AM

Million Air Cleveland has installed a new security system at its Burke Lakefront Airport (BKL) facility that it hopes will become the prototype for other FBOs.

Designed by Tulsa, Okla.-based security firm Navigance at the direction of Million Air, the system features video-monitored gates, which require a National Air Transportation Association (NATA) identification card for entrance, and a 42-in. plasma screen behind the front desk that normally depicts eight camera sectors.

Smaller flat screens are located in Million Air’s line-service shack and in the office of the 24/7 police station located within the main terminal at Burke Lakefront. The FBO provided the installation for the police at its own cost, and the signals are beamed from the FBO to the police station. All of the color cameras function 24/7, so police can view the ramp and hangar area at any time.

In the event of an “incident,” Million Air employees can pick up a direct-dial telephone and alert officers, who can then touch a button on their monitor to call up an enlarged image.

Million Air’s ramp area is surrounded by eight-foot-high fencing topped with barbed wire, with two gates for foot traffic and one for vehicles. An entry gate off the street requires a NATA-issued ID card, encrypted with a “smart chip” that identifies the visitor as an employee, tenant, tenant employee, flight school student or other authorized person.

The street-entry gate allows vehicles to enter into a fenced and secured parking lot, and is monitored by a pan, tilt and zoom (PTZ) camera. People without the requisite NATA card are verbally challenged at the entry gate via a weatherproof microphone and speaker by a Million Air employee who monitors gate access from a TV monitor.

From the completely fenced parking lot there are three ways to enter onto the Million Air ramp at BKL. The first is through a heavy-duty gate that allows vehicle access. The gate is a massive hydraulic swing gate, which the company believes is capable of stopping almost anything that would try to crash through. It, too, has a microphone and voice challenge system.

There is a gate with a card reader for employees and tenants and another for visitors (also with a NATA card attachment in case a stray employee or flight school student seeks access). Both “man” gates are monitored by closed-circuit PTZ cameras.

Pilot Access

Because of its 24/7 staffing, Million Air also had to come up with a method to identify pilots to employees who may not have been on duty when they arrived. Pilots who landed when the second or third shifts were working would be completely unknown to the first shift when they returned in the morning to get to their airplane.

Million Air solved the problem with a fingerprinting device. The pilots, upon leaving for the night, must state their name and then place their finger in a fingerprint-reading device before leaving the FBO. On return they simply identify themselves and again place their finger in a reader, and it confirms or rejects the identity. Thus, before allowing ramp access, Million Air employees know the pilots who dropped off a given aircraft the night before are in fact the same pilots who are returning to pick up their aircraft (for crew changes Million Air requires advanced notification).

Million Air Cleveland also has monitored PTZ cameras viewing its ramp and hangar, all connected to the overall security system through a network. In addition, the company has installed numerous floodlights to brighten the ramp and doubled the lighting level within the hangar.

According to Thomas Slavin, president of Million Air Cleveland, the company went to the trouble and expense of installing what he calls the “cutting edge” general aviation security system for several reasons.

“We want to establish, through the installation of our security system, a benchmark for future consideration by the Transportation Security Administration, so that when they start to focus on the nation’s 4,500 general aviation airports that are now ‘second priorities,’ they’ll have a benchmark for their security planner to use,” he said. “Our security system incorporates general aviation savvy with plain old common sense, developed through years of FBO management, and blends that brew with today’s new security technology.”

Slavin conceded that the system is not perfect. “I’m sure that individuals seeking to perpetrate terror can find a way to breach our system,” he said. And while he has had a “very positive response” from pilots, some tenants view it as being a little bit intrusive.

System Provides Added Benefits

But there are other benefits that the Million Air system can provide to the company. For instance, the fingerprint device can be used to monitor time and attendance of employees, replacing time cards. The camera monitoring the ramp and hangar can be used to resolve hangar-rash incidents because all of the video is archived for 30 days.

“From an insurance underwriter’s standpoint, that really puts blame where it belongs,” said Slavin. “If it’s our fault, God bless us, it’s our fault. But under the circumstances that somebody had a preexisting problem then brought it to us, that doesn’t go over so well.” He credited the new security system with helping to hold his insurance premium down.

Early last month, Million Air Cleveland organized a series of focus groups at BKL that involved security experts from around the country, along with representatives of several fractional-ownership providers and other interested parties. The purpose, said Slavin, was to brainstorm “how to make this stuff cost efficient, because you can spend yourself into oblivion on all of this high-tech stuff.” He said Million Air’s system cost $100,000.