Electronic locking system monitors access to airplanes

 - September 23, 2008, 7:36 AM

AirLock Aviation Security Systems has developed a programmable electronic door and access-panel locking system that records all uses of the locks to gain access to an aircraft. Unlike all-aircraft security systems that include sensors and electronic boxes, AirLock’s electronic access control system requires replacing mechanical door and access-panel locks with AirLock’s locking devices. The benefit of having electronic access control is that the system retains an audit trail for all uses of the locks and can be set to allow certain users access at certain times.

A flight department with AirLock-equipped airplanes, for example, could provide a key to an outside cleaning company and program those keys to allow access only during certain hours. Mechanics can have their own set of keys, and the audit trail can be used to verify when AirLocked areas were serviced. A charter operator can give pilots one key that can access multiple airplanes as well as facility door locks.

And keys can be set with start and expiration times and dates, so new employees can receive their keys but not be able to use them until they are qualified, and departing employees wouldn’t be able to use their keys anymore. If a key is lost, it’s a simple matter to disable the key by reprogramming the lock cylinder; the owner doesn’t have to have the key in hand to change the locks that the key can access.

The AirLock system consists of an electronic lock cylinder combined with a programmable electronic key. The lock cylinder, a tubular-type lock that can’t be picked and in which duplicated mechanical keys cannot work, replaces the aircraft’s existing mechanical lock cylinder. Inserting the battery-powered key activates electronics in the lock cylinder, so no separate source of power or wiring connections are needed for the lock cylinder installed in the aircraft.

Data Transfer
When someone inserts the electronic key into the lock cylinder, the lock and the key exchange identification information. If the lock is on the list of approved locks that the key is allowed to open and that day and time are approved, then the lock and key compare access codes. When permission to open the lock is granted, the lock unlocks and the lock and the key store the “authorize to open” event in their electronic memories.

The key communicates its stored data to the AirLock servers via a laptop, PDA or smartphone equipped with an infrared port.

One question that many potential users have is what happens if the key’s battery dies in a remote location? “There are options if the battery is dead,” said Bret Lanz, vice president of marketing. Besides replacing the battery, which is a relatively easy-to-find camera battery, the key automatically beeps when the power source is getting low. “You’ll have 100 to 150 more operations before it goes dead,” he said.

If the key’s program somehow gets scrambled and the key doesn’t work in the lock, the key can be reprogrammed as long as the user can get Internet access and has the requisite infrared port-equipped computer, PDA or phone.

STC Approval Pending
AirLock has filed for an FAA supplemental type certificate (STC) for the lock system installation on Hawker Beechcraft King Air 200 and 300 series turboprops. There is no regulatory requirement that locks be FAA approved but, according to Lanz, it made sense to go for the STC, because “We didn’t want to have someone say later that these are illegal.”

AirLock will seek all-model blanket STCs for Part 23 and, if possible, Part 25 aircraft, according to Lanz, and the company is also discussing AirLock with aircraft OEMs, including Hawker Beechcraft, as a possible factory option.

There is no specific requirement for environmental testing for an aircraft lock, but AirLock is testing the system to RTCA DO-160E standards. “We want to ensure we’re not going to have a lock failure due to adverse conditions,” he said. AirLock has also shown that a direct hit with a 100,000-volt Taser did not disable the lock.

The King Air AirLock system kit costs $13,000, including three lock cylinders for access panels and one for the main door handle, the keys, a one-year subscription to AirLock support and setup and training.

The annual subscription price after the first year is $2,100 and includes 24-hour support. AirLock administrators are on call 24/7 to help with any lock-out issues, and they can help reprogram a problem key remotely, via the Internet. A user would have to provide the unique lock and cylinder serial numbers to the administrator for reprogramming purposes.

AirLock expects the King Air STC to be approved by the end of this month.