Spending on explosive detection and passenger screening at major commercial airports has increased massively in the years since the terrorism of September 11, 2001 but what of the security surrounding the airport – literally?
Physical security spending appears to have not matched the investment in passenger security, and it’s time to begin lifting all areas of airport security to a comparable level says Alec Owen, of Future Fibre Technologies, a company which manufactures the fibre optic perimeter intrusion detection systems used around the world to protect critical infrastructures including airports.
"Airport operators have invested tens of millions of dollars annually in security that people can see – baggage scanning, explosive checks, and passenger scans," Owen says. "Behind the scenes however, few commercial airports have a comparable level of security or protection on their perimeters." He says it’s probably a case of the spending on security directly matching the earnings of each particular segment of an airport’s operations, as often these segments are run as separate cost centres.
On average, 50-60pc or more of an airport’s income is derived from car parking, retail outlets and rent, compared with 30-35pc of revenue coming from passenger charges (what each traveller has to pay the airport operator for baggage and personal security screening, terminal security, customs inspection etc).
As for any business, spending is going to be proportional to the revenue generated by that particular segment. The big earning carpark, for example, has significantly improved security with better lighting, security cameras, security patrols and number plate recognition, again reflecting the importance of this rapidly growing revenue stream.
The passenger charge is another big revenue segment, and covers the cost of providing baggage services, x-raying of baggage, scanning of passengers and explosives checks, and spending in this area of security since 2001 has increased dramatically. In contrast, aircraft landing charges these days account for just 10 to 20pc of an airport’s revenue and the amount invested in protecting and securing the airport’s perimeter is correspondingly small. From an overall security perspective, the perimeter protection of the airport has become the ‘weakest link’.
A solution, according to Alec Owen, is to look at airport security with a holistic approach rather than segmented off by cost centres in order to prevent these weak points occurring.
Airport intrusions do happen, and for a variety of reasons: curiosity, theft, graffiti, drug smuggling, people smuggling and worse. It’s not enough to rely on intruders being spotted and reported by the pilots of taxiing aircraft or the control tower, Owen says.
Owen says that the best protected airports may have CCTV cameras in the airside ramp and apron areas but beyond the apron there is often nothing but random patrols and a fence standing between intruders and the aircraft.
The protection of critical infrastructure is of growing concern within the highly competitive aviation industry, but it has to fit within cost constraints. To tackle this, Future Fibre Technologies (FFT) has developed FFT Secure Fence, a perimeter intrusion detection system that specifically addresses the issues facing large facilities such as airports, according to the Australian firm.
"Secure Fence detects and pinpoints the location of incursions anywhere on the airport perimeter fence," Owen says. "It is designed to operate 24/7 in all weather conditions with no change in sensitivity and virtually no nuisance alarms."
The FFT solution includes a multi-lingual Graphical User Interface (GUI) command and control system that provides real-time information to airport security staff responsible for monitoring and managing intrusion incidents.
The architecture supports integration with existing security systems, such as access control and CCTV, to centralise security monitoring for the entire facility. More information at –