AIRCRAFT SECURITY SYSTEMS
Category: Safety & Security Issues for Business Aviation
Author: Jeremy Cox
Aircraft Security Systems
How well protected is your airplane?
The inimitable Australian feminist writer, Ms. Germaine Greer once claimed:
"…Security is when everything is settled. When nothing can happen to you…" She also wrote that "...There is no such thing as security. There never has been…" Even though her statements are debatable, the World's security forces seem to be embracing these remarks as it seems these modern security mavens are wearing some pretty wild kaleidoscopic glasses these days when they theorize about all conceivable and possible/potential threats, regardless of how far-fetched they might sound to us civilians.
Today, the concept of terrorism is a rampant fear that returns a total of 13,200,000 entries when the words 'Fear of Terrorism' are typed into Google. By comparison, the phrase 'Fear of Heights' returns a mere 1,200,000 entries.
Do you find this as surprising as I do? The Aviation Industry could be accused of being obsessed with the concept of ‘Safety’, (it is really not a bad obsession to have when one considers the effect that any unplanned, high-speed meeting with the ground always has on both the aircraft and its unfortunate occupants). However the concept of Security is being held up as a primary concern that all of us within the General Aviation Industry are being forced into enacting - seemingly as a priority above our normal ‘Safety’ culture.
The U.S. Government’s Department of Homeland Securities’ - Transportation Security Administration (DHS-TSA) made a dry-run against our industry recently with their proposed rule implementation titled the ‘Large Aircraft Security Program’ (LASP), which as we all know, pertains to all aircraft that weigh 12,500 lbs or more, and has far reaching effects on general aviation airports, FBOs, maintenance facilities and others close to the Aviation Industry.
The LASP regulation was shelved after many of us exercised our right as citizens by criticizing and decrying this legislation to our elected officials as being totally unworkable as it was initially proposed. Unfortunately this massive program is currently shelved - temporarily sleeping before the all-powerful DHS-TSA re-proposes it to our industry later this year.
The purpose of this article is not to prepare you for compliance with what many believe to be draconian security requirements (which shall no doubt be sent back down to us all in a future LASP document). Instead it is meant to provide you with some insight into the various methods and systems that are currently available to you today for use in, and/or around your business aircraft, thus allowing you to take the lead in the implementation and governance of your own aircraft security program.
THREATS AGAINST SECURITY
First, let's logically consider all of the possible threats against the security of your business aircraft when it is away from its home base. The following are listed from ‘most likely’, to ‘least likely’ (but sadly conceivable).
1. Accidental Damage (towing, other aircraft, vehicles, etc.);
2. Weather Damage (thunderstorms and tornados especially);
4. Drug Addicts (I will explain below);
6. The Curious;
7. Joy Riders;
Threats 1 and 2 (accidental and weather damage) are reasonably controllable depending on the selection criteria that you use to pick your overnight parking spot. Threats 3, 4, 5, 6 and 7 (vandalism, drug addicts, thieves, the curious and joy-riders) are the most likely malicious threats that you may possibly encounter day-to-day.
God forbid numbers 8 and 9 should occur, but many of the systems discussed in this article will hopefully prevent, or at least alert you to any attempt that has been made against your aircraft under all of these threat conditions except for 1 and 2.
So why do I single out drug addicts? Well it is a popular belief held by many addicts that some really good drugs can be found in the first-aid kits that are on board aircraft.
You may laugh, but in my apprentice days, my employer had five of his aircraft broken into for this very reason. All of the medical kits were completely torn apart, while nothing else was touched. The local constabulary warned us that the break-ins were the work of drug addicts.
The easiest way to safe-guard and secure your aircraft while on the road is to place it into a locked and guarded hangar. However this is not always an option, so we shall have to explore all of the alternative options that are available to you.
Virtually 100% security is assured if armed guards surrounded your aircraft at all times when it is parked. Hence this method is employed by most of the World's leaders when their head-of-state aircraft is on the road. I remember years ago when I was working as a contract mechanic at Marshalls of Cambridge, which is the European Service Centre for Lockheed, and King Hussein of Jordan's Lockheed L1011 came in for servicing there. Regardless of what servicing operation was being worked on his aircraft, the royal security guard detail stood around the aircraft, ready to shoot if any of us decided to attempt sabotage!
There are many leading multi-national companies that also employ the use of armed security guards. Normally though, they, the guards, are procured locally and therefore do not travel with the aircraft. Without armed guards or night watchmen available, you should implement one or more of the following systems ASAP.
Except for un-pressurized light aircraft, where the use of propeller cable locks, throttle locks, instrument and radio stack lockable metal covers, and padlocked control locks are the only suitable means of deterrent against intrusion because the aircrafts’ interior is easily accessed by an assailant, most business aircraft pose a harder target for those that wish to enter the aircraft uninvited... that is, as long as the crew has remembered to lock the aircraft.
I have heard many stories of the crew locking the aircraft up on the tarmac at an airport in a remote region, to return the next day to find hundreds of muddy footprints all over the wings, fuselage and tail, because their aircraft became a playground for native children. Footprints wash-off, but removing hardened mud out of one or both of your pitot tubes without screwing up either the probe, or your RVSM profile, may prove to be a harder task than you can imagine.
You might look into lockable pitot/static, AOA and Rosemount probe covers, because if any of them become damaged, you are effectively grounded where you sit.
Virginia based Medeco Company (www.medeco.com) has been making Locking Systems for aircraft since the 1980s. The standard lock on most aircraft can be opened with almost any key.
The Medeco locks are "double cross cut-bi directional". This means that only the right key will operate the lock. The standard lock uses uni-directional wafers. Medeco uses tumblers with angles cut in two directions which make picking virtually impossible. The standard lock is made of soft ‘pot’ metal while the Medeco lock utilizes four ‘antidrill’ pins embedded in solid brass.
The standard lock uses keys that can be obtained anywhere, and be duplicated anywhere by anyone. Medeco keys are assigned codes needed for duplication, and Medeco is the only manufacturer of the key blanks, making key duplication only possible by them - with your authorization. All doors, access panels, hatches, etc., should be drilled and secured by a Medeco (or similar) locking system.
It is also very wise to install a mechanical latch-locking system on your escape hatches. These must have high visibility 'Remove Before Flight' streamers attached so it is impossible for the crew to unknowingly depart with the locks still engaged. Most aircraft manufacturers offer lockable/latch-able escape hatches as a service bulletin option. Otherwise an STC option is likely available to you.
A last thought on the topic of locks: if you do not already have locking fuel caps installed on your aircraft, you had better add them now. What better way to knobble an aircraft than to put a foreign substance in its tanks and hope that this gunk will cause the engines to fail?
It only takes an afternoon to replace your existing locks with non-pick units, but most owners choose to wait until the next scheduled inspection to do so. If this is your situation then you shall just have to follow the lead given by the famed espionage writer - the late Mr. Ian Fleming - in his series of books about James Bond. Fleming’s character often took a single hair from his mane, and then ‘saliva-stuck’ it to the latch of his briefcase or across a hotel door jamb. The jarring or snapping of this single human hair would indicate to Bond that whatever it was stuck to was breeched and tampered with.
I promise you that I am not advocating that you use your own hair to secure your aircraft while you wait until your locks are replaced, but you should utilize security marking/tamper tape instead. Use a piece of this special tape across a portion of the seams around all of your doors, hatches and panels when you have to park overnight in a questionable or un-secure area.
All tamper-evident tape manufacturers offer a variety of sizes and styles of tape for use on your aircraft. The most effective allow you to sign them after they are adhered in place, and if an intruder tries to remove the tape, lettering that normally states: "Danger/Warning/Void - This door has been opened" as the tape film separates apart will leave this pre-printed warning message on the surface it was adhered to.
Usually alcohol or acetone will be required to remove the residue left by the tamper-tape. You can also use a security gel Instead of tape.
This special, brightly colored compound hardens in contact with the air and forms a structural seal that will break if it is tampered with, thus indicating a breach of your security.
Some flight departments use masking tape because the residue is easier to cleanup. Since masking tape is available at any hardware store, I hope that you too will frown upon this practice and take the 3M (or other supplier) route by using proper security tape instead of this cheap facsimile.
THE TECHNOLOGICAL APPROACH
If you would rather take a technological approach to securing your aircraft, then I strongly recommend that you make contact with Tucson-based Securaplane Technologies (www.securaplane.com), a company that is definitely a world-leading manufacturer of comprehensive and integrated aircraft security systems.
Its innovative equipment installations include reed relay switches that mount on critical doors and hatches, and activate if an attempt to jar any of them open is made. Additional passive infra-red detectors, radar intrusion sensors and closed circuit cameras all feed to a power and remote communications unit, alarm indicator, a control/display unit and an optional digital video recorder.
Power is supplied by ships power as well as an independent system battery which can be supplemented by an embedded solar cell placed in the cockpit window. If an intrusion is sensed, an alert will be transmitted to the crew, or the designated person that is monitoring the system. This alert can be sent via UHF, which has approximately a 10-mile range, to a handheld transceiver or by Satcom to any handheld or landline telephone anywhere in the World.
Some of the more sophisticated systems also allow the monitoring person to watch live video of the intruder as the footage is being recorded. It is sometimes even possible (depending on the installed system options that you have) to speak to and hear responses from the intruder like: "Don't touch that! Get off my aircraft! The police are on their way!"
Having an integrated electronic surveillance and alerting system on board your aircraft should eliminate any possibility of you leaving the ground oblivious to the fact that you have just been the victim of an act of sabotage. I still contest though that regardless of how good your state-of-the-art security system may be, it would be very foolish of you to not perform a full and proper preflight inspection and walk-around, instead of merely ‘kicking the tires’ and ‘lighting the fires’ to blast skyward.
When there is a fear that you might be targeted by a ‘nasty’ that owns a shoulder or vehicle launched heat-seeking missile or two, and that they are planning on placing you and your aircraft into the crosshairs of their scope, you really should start shopping for a JETEYE or Guardian infrared sensor system.
These systems work because of an integrated suite of flash-tracking sensors mounted on your aircraft that detect any missile that is launched against you. Once the threat has been detected, it is immediately tracked and an onboard laser is fired at the missile from your aircraft, to disrupt the missile’s trajectory, causing it to fly harmlessly away from your aircraft (so they say).
These systems are actually already approved by the Federal Aviation Administration. For other missile types, radar disrupting aluminium chaff dispensers or magnesium flare dispensers can also be installed onto your aircraft. I pray that this never becomes required equipment at home here in the US.
IDENTIFICATION AND TRACKING ISSUES
Two last issues of security that apply both on the ground and in the air pertain to the identification and tracking of your aircraft. If you have your national flag or corporate logo painted onto your aircraft, I strongly urge you to have them removed…
There are some parts of the World where your national emblem will make you an immediate target. Even close to home, you may run a risk of reprisal by displaying who the corporate owner is of the aircraft that you operate. Keep a low public profile at all times. Why attract unwanted attention from potential ‘nasties’?
Finally, if you have not made an application to the FAA through the NBAA under the Blocked Aircraft Registration Request (BARR) program, make it your first priority. Without an application filed under this program, your flight-plan, time of departure, flight profile, destination and arrival time will be visible for anyone on the planet to view on the internet, real-time.
All of the aforementioned details are available as public information, unless you request that the FAA blocks this information. BARR submissions must be faxed to (202) 478-0035 or mailed to:
BARR Program Manager
1200 18th Street NW
Washington, DC 20036-2527
There are some places on this planet where I just would never consider leaving an aircraft parked unattended, regardless of how good the onboard automatic security may be. When you have to drop-off at one of these places, I strongly suggest that you reposition the aircraft to a friendlier location and wait there until the passengers are ready for you to run back and pick them up.
The U.S. State Department issues bulletins at its website regarding ‘travel with extreme caution’ and ‘no-travel’ zones and regions around the globe.
These warnings can be accessed through the following website address: http://travel.state.gov/travel/cis_pa_tw/tw/tw_1764.html
According to this same website: Travel Warnings are issued to describe long-term conditions that make a country dangerous or unstable. A Travel Warning is also issued when the U.S. Government's ability to assist American citizens is constrained due to the closure of an embassy or consulate or because of a drawdown of its staff.
Travel Alerts are issued to disseminate information about short-term conditions - generally within a particular country - that pose imminent risks to the security of U.S. citizens. Natural disasters, terrorist attacks, coups, anniversaries of terrorist events, election- related demonstrations or violence, and high-profile events such as international conferences or regional sports events are examples of conditions that might generate a Travel Alert.
This concludes our brief review of Aircraft Security Systems. For now I wish you happy, safe and secure flying. Keep the shiny side up, the dirty side down, and don’t talk to strangers!
If you have any questions regarding this article, or would like to receive some free advice, you are welcome to contact Jeremy at JetBrokers, Inc. at +1.636.449.2833, or email: firstname.lastname@example.org