The future of air security

As flying costs decrease, so demand increases, and so the number of flights. While air transport has never been safer, more flights means more opportunities for terrorism, human error or other catastrophic outcomes. Under the Sixth and Seventh Framework Programmes (FP6 and FP7), the European Commission funds a wide variety of research into how to minimise such events. The 2006 Aerodays exhibition in Vienna gives some lead researchers the chance to show-off their innovations.

Under the FP6, the Commission ploughed some EUR 100 million into safety research, and a further EUR 25 million in security. Under FP7, researchers expect a similar amount on safety, but an increased quantity in security.

Under FP7, security falls under DG Enterprise’s brief for the first time. The Commission differentiates between defence and security research. Defence research remains the prerogative of the Member State, while security research is EU-driven.

However, in some cases, there is a cross-over between security and defence research, and the technologies used can often be identical. DG Enterprise aims to increase the security and safety of EU citizens, and increase competitiveness in this field, according to Tjien-Khoen Lim, a scientific officer for the Commission’s security research programme.

One obvious problem is how to increase capacity while also increasing safety. The FLYSAFE project offers some solutions, looking at ways to minimise non-hostile events. Safety is a key component of ACARE’s ‘Vision 2020’ document: procedures should be tripled, in all weather conditions, 24-hours per day and flights should leave within 15 minutes of the schedule 99 per cent of the time.

Joseph Huysseune works for Thales, the coordinator for FLYSAFE, which is an Integrated Project, receiving EUR 29 million in funding from the EU, with 36 partners in Member States. ‘We surveyed pilots, to see what they would like,’ he said. ’75 per cent wanted improvements to the accuracy and reliability of information to hand, and in an improved display,’ he said.

Hazards that could be highlighted for the pilot include atmospheric changes, airport hazards, other air traffic, and land hazards and terrain. The scheme would use a combination of navigational aids, for example from satellite, weather stations and RADAR to continually update information for the pilot, beaming the latest information directly to the cockpit. The hope is that in the event of, say unexpected weather, the pilot would be able to make informed choices and be able to land the plane safely.

The systems the team are developing are currently undergoing tests at the simulation lab at National Aerospace Laboratory (NLR) in the Netherlands. But, what if the hazard is human, rather than natural? The attacks on New York and Washington on September 11 2001 have given experts in security a great deal to learn from.

The SAFEE project is another huge project, with 31 partners in 12 countries this time skirting the border between civil security and national defence. The team identified several possible malicious, deliberate threats to the aircraft while in flight – from passengers, crew, luggage and malicious data.

While security at airports is very high, the team have identified methods of cranking up the security further. ‘Biometric information, for example a photograph, on arrival on the plane could be compared to another taken at check-in. The same can be done for luggage, examining molecules in the luggage fabric. On board the aircraft could be suspicious behaviour detectors,’ explained Dr Daniel Gaultier from Sagem Defence security, coordinating the project.

The team even consider ways of mitigating hijack situations. ‘It could mean that the pilot’s control is taken away. We could direct the plane remotely to a safe area where is circles. We could then determine when the pilot has regained control through biometric information, or even remotely land the plane safely,’ he said.

There would also be automatic monitoring of the electromagnetic spectrum around the aircraft, in case of a ‘data attack.’ Security expert Dr Michael Nesterenko from Protection Totale Engineering Group outlined how technology leads the fight against terrorism.

‘Today, there will be 10 flights flown without pilots over Baghdad and Kabul, but controlled from California. Technology is not a problem, but the US loses a lot of aeroplanes,’ he said, pointing out that attacks on civilian aircraft are by no means unknown. In 2002 there was an attack on an airliner in Arika, Kenya and a foiled rocket attack on an El Al flight in Geneva in May, he said.

Some 40 planes have had rockets fired at them, and 25 have been known to hit, in recent years. ‘There are a million missiles manufactured every year in 20 countries,’ Mr Nesterenko said. The threat is real and difficult to mitigate, he said, alluding to the lack of sufficient ground staff security at US airports.

While biometric information – such as in the photograph example above – may ensure the right person actually arrives on the right plane, how do you know the passenger is a terrorist? Commercial ‘terrorism’ databases are reputedly highly inaccurate, with many of the leading lights fighting terrorism featuring on the lists of terrorists.

‘To move forward we need layered defences, and training in crisis management and crisis planning,’ he said. ‘It is also important to keep citizens informed – as is done in Israel – where people feel secure and the government trusts their citizenry. In the US, such information is always classified, and there is no security,’ Mr Nesterenko said.

Luciano di Renzo is Security Director at Eurofly, an Italian airline that has made security a top priority. Many of the measures they take, for example, bullet proof cockpit doors and cameras covering the areas just outside the cockpit, it now uses on all its flights.

However, no matter how much security is stepped-up, both Mr di Renzo and Mr Nesterenko agreed that the current safety system is by no means foolproof. Even if all the security procedures are followed correctly, there can still be security failures.

Mr Di Renzo believes that there are many low-tech solutions to many of the security problems of today, such as using adhesive seals on doors or transparent life jacket holders, so staff can see easily if they have been tampered with.

But, despite the potential dangers, air travel remains one of the safest forms of transport, and thanks to the initiative of dedicated researchers, air transport will become safer still in the future.

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Category: Miscellaneous
Data Source Provider: CORDIS News attendance at ‘Aerodays’ event in Vienna, Austria
Document Reference: Based on CORDIS News attendance at ‘Aerodays’ event in Vienna, Austria
Subject Index: Coordination, Cooperation; Economic Aspects; Scientific Research

RCN: 25862

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