Business & GA, Commercial

Eye on the Cabin

By James W. Ramsey | January 1, 2003
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Cabin security, thrust into the limelight by the 9/11 terrorist assault, has been quietly pursued for a number of years by a handful of companies that now are poised to capitalize on expected government mandates. Interestingly, although a terrorist attack within U.S. borders triggered the emphasis on aircraft cabin surveillance systems, the first mandate for such equipment probably will emerge in Europe.

The council of the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) strengthened in-flight security standards when it issued Amendment 27 to ICAO Annex 6, Part 1. It calls for reinforced cockpit doors on civil aircraft, as well as systems permitting the pilots to monitor the door area outside the cockpit. To align its JAR-OPS 1 regulation with the new ICAO amendment, Europe’s Joint Aviation Authority (JAA) issued a notice of proposed amendment (NPA), which proposes that JAR-OPS 1.255 include the following wording: "means shall be provided for monitoring from either pilot’s station the entire door area outside the flight crew compartment to identify persons requesting entry and to detect suspicious behavior or potential threat."

The proposed mandate, for aircraft with more than 60 passenger seats or more than a 100,327-pound (45,500-kg) maximum takeoff weight, is in JAA Committee for a decision.

However, with the current U.S. airline recession, Department of Transportation/Federal Aviation Administration (DoT/FAA) directives requiring camera systems for cabin or cockpit door surveillance are trailing activities in other parts of the world. The DoT’s Rapid Response Team has focused on strengthening cockpit doors, with an FAA mandate requiring action by April 2003. But, while concluding that "cameras to monitor and view the area outside the flight deck door may add value," the team did not call for any specific action.

"It’s still a work in progress, as to whether we would actually mandate the installation of a cockpit door surveillance system, but there is nothing right now that prohibits the installation of cameras or any kind of monitoring equipment," says an FAA spokesman. In fact, several carriers have cameras installed on at least one of their aircraft.

In May 2002, however, FAA did decide to launch a pilot program to install video in the cabin and implement emergency alerting systems that may also be installed in the cabin or carried by cabin crewmembers. The agency distributed $3.3 million for the program to 11 air carriers, which received the funding in the form of grants.

Convinced that a need will materialize, avionics manufacturers already are developing systems. "We think the mandate is going to come from Europe first and wend its way over to the U.S. later," predicts Terry George, sales director for Aircraft Engineering & Installation Inc. (AEI). By April 2003, all UK operators must have new Phase II security doors in the cockpit plus the means for the crew, from seated positions, to see who is outside the door. The JAA plans to do the same. European authorities "have not specifically required CCTV [close circuit television]," says Steve Foreman, technical services manager for AEI in Europe. But they intend to leave few certifiable options. "A peep hole in the door does not qualify," he adds.

Collins Systems

Rockwell Collins views security systems as part of an overall cabin information system. The manufacturer launched its Integrated Information System (I2S) in the mid-1990s and has been tailoring its wireless local area network (LAN) architecture to fit an airborne flight information system being installed on Airbus A340 aircraft.

Before the attack on the World Trade Center, Collins hadn’t thought much about adding a cabin surveillance function. "But when 9/11 came along, we were well-positioned to respond because of previous work we had done," says Lin Rice, Collins’ program manager for integrated information systems.

Collins offers the Video Intelligence System (VIS). It is a multifunctional digital system, though it uses analog cameras, which are smaller and operate better in low-light conditions (as low as 0.03 lux) than digital cameras. A video server unit (VSU) converts analog signals to digital, so the aircraft’s Ethernet system can be used.

VIS does not come with infrared (IR) technology, but that feature can be added. "VIS will work in either mode [low-light video or IR], but the cameras we selected operate very well without IR," Rice says.

VIS uses an electronic flight bag (EFB) display in the cockpit to show video images, as well as display operational documents and manuals. Like a laptop computer the EFB can be carried on and off the aircraft, preserving the cockpit space that otherwise would be required for a dedicated camera display.

In operational trials aboard a United Airlines B747, EFBs were mounted on an articulating arm "off the shoulder" of each pilot. The display could be rotated for best viewability, says Rice.

VIS can display multiple images simultaneously. Small images from multiple cameras are shown along the bottom of the screen. In the screen’s upper, primary viewing area, pilots can zoom in and present a particular image of interest. The United installation offered the flight crew the choice of using either Collins’ wireless LAN or the Ethernet connection to transmit information to the EFB in the cabin. Rice notes a key advantage of the wireless system: it allows a sky marshal or other FAA- authorized person to view the same camera images in the cabin on a standard handheld pocket PC.

VIS can support up to 32 cameras, mounted in any location the airline chooses: in the cabin, the cargo hold or external to the aircraft. Collins also has talked to airlines about using cameras to monitor and record possible cabin disruption in the event of clear air turbulence (CAT) and to monitor cargo loading to detect pilferage. But since 9/11, most attention has been focused on cameras mounted outside the cockpit door.

Collins’ camera surveillance package need not be part of the I2S system. "It’s also a stand-alone system," says Rice. Some airline customers seek from Collins a simple system that offers the potential to grow. For them a minimum system would include an EFB, VSU and a single camera.

Collins also is talking to Hollingsead International–a Garden Grove, Calif.-based certification and installation house–about providing a lower-cost analog surveillance system. The ship sets, manufactured by Hollingsead for retrofit, would include elements common to the VIS, including mounting arms (for EFBs) and cameras, along with digital cabling to provide "an easy transition" to a more extensive system later, Rice says.

At the other end of the spectrum, Collins offers a VIS system that interfaces with I2S. It features storage and playback of images, and could transmit the images to the ground via Collins’ high-speed satellite communication system.

AEI/AD Aerospace

AEI, of Orlando, Fla., specializes in retrofitting aircraft with safety systems recommended or mandated by government agencies. AD Aerospace, London, is an expert in industrial security and has been providing aircraft cabin security systems for six years–including ones used to counter air rage incidents in Europe and to detect smoke and fire–in the wake of the Swissair MD-11 disaster near Nova Scotia. It designed the cameras and produces the line replaceable units (LRUs), while its parent, AD Holdings, produces the software. AEI and AD Aerospace have joined to form a trans-Atlantic partnership and establish AEI/AD Aerospace in the cabin surveillance market.

AEI/AD Aerospace has developed a three-camera system–one camera looking out of the cockpit door and two others looking across the galley area to ensure security around the door. Images from the cameras are first transmitted to a 2-MCU (modular concept unit) processing (or switching) box in the aircraft’s electronic bay. They then are sent to a dedicated monitor, a 4-inch (10-cm) liquid crystal display that is made small and light (1 pound [0.45 kg]) to reduce panel clutter. On a B737, the monitor has been mounted in the center console, ahead of the throttles, and can be viewed by either pilot. Foreman believes 90 percent of air transport aircraft can accommodate the monitor in their center pedestals.

George and Foreman believe most aircraft cabins should have no fewer than three cameras, although two cameras probably would suffice in the B747-400, which has a more open cabin layout behind the cockpit door. The system will accommodate an additional five cameras (for a total of eight) without adding wiring from the e-bay to the cockpit, says George.

An IR illuminator, providing enough light for the cameras to function in darkness, is part of the basic system. It is kept separate from the camera to reduce heat and keep the camera unit small, making the system as covert as possible. The camera, as small as 2 inches (5 cm) in length, can be positioned behind a panel on the aircraft’s sidewall.

Airline customers differ on hiding cameras. Some favor an overt system, to deter crime, while others prefer cameras that don’t remind passengers of security issues. The AEI/AD system can be both, so an installation may have cameras that are obvious to see and ones that, deceptively, cannot be detected.

The launch customer for the three-camera system is GB Airways, a British Airways franchise, for its B737 fleet. Modification approval from Britain’s CAA was expected in December, and an FAA supplemental type certificate (STC) is expected this month.

Another customer is looking at a more sophisticated system that includes a file server (housed in an additional 2-MCU box) that can record data from up to 16 cameras. This system is tailored more to deal with air rage incidents than to deter terrorist attacks and also can provide smoke detection. It will reveal any attempt to tamper with the picture electronically and thus can be used as evidence in a court of law, Foreman says.

AEI/AD Aerospace sees a "huge potential market" for its surveillance systems. The JAA mandate alone could demand systems for 2,500 aircraft, from regionals to widebodies. And George feels it is fortunate that the U.S. mandate trails the European ruling because combined U.S.-European orders would exceed supply.

Which aircraft probably will be equipped with cabin security systems? George believes the retrofit market, including aircraft currently out of production and those delivered in the next two to three years, will bring the most business. However, he suspects that Boeing, which recently formed a new Security and Safety Services Division, "might jump into" the retrofit business.


Santa Margarita, Calif.-based AirWorks introduced a cabin surveillance system on Sept. 18, 2001, one week after the terrorist attacks. The company happened to be working on a camera system for other purposes at the time.

AirWorks has since refined and expanded its airborne product line to include a digital system that can be expanded to incorporate the EFB function. It has gained customers, as well, having more than 1,200 aircraft under contract for cabin surveillance installations. "We have every air transport model covered except the MD-80 and Boeing 727," says Ricky Frick, AirWorks president and chief executive officer. "We also have STCs [for camera systems] in the RJ100 and 700 and the Avro 85 regional aircraft."

AirWorks can provide a basic, analog cabin surveillance product, but primarily sells digital, modular and upgradeable systems. All also are 28-volt systems, negating the need for power conversion from 12 volts. "That means we can demonstrate our systems in the airplane [and] not just show a PowerPoint presentation in a boardroom," says Frick. "We Velcro the cameras in place and show the pilot exactly how the system works." AirWorks’ digital system can demonstrate:

  • The "cabin ready" mode–a flight attendant signals the cabin is ready for takeoff and the pilot acknowledges.

  • The "automatic mode"–images from cabin cameras appear before the flight crew sequentially in selectable cycles, ranging from one to 15 seconds.

  • The "manual mode"–a crewman selects imagery from one camera.

  • And "snooze mode"–a crewman turns off his monitor but can find it reactivated by the other crewman, who wants to quickly alert him of a problem scene.

Each cockpit monitor, plus one in the cabin, has its own processor and power supply. A junction box, or system controller, serves at the central processing unit for the two cockpit monitors. This box, fitted with its own power supply, permits expansion to accommodate EFB functions. AirWorks’ system has an Ethernet port for laptop connection, a com port to allow software change with a laptop, an audio port for a camera/microphone combination, and a port for audio/video recording. Crewmen can play video forward or backward, or "freeze" an image on the screen.

The AirWorks system can include up to 16 cameras, though airlines typically have been ordering three-camera systems. The cockpit monitors commonly are positioned to the side of the main panel. All screens are touch-sensitive to reduce crew workload.


French avionics provider Thales has also been active in the cabin surveillance field through its Avionics Inflight Systems Division in Irvine, Calif. Boeing has selected Thales, along with Jamco Corp. of Japan, as a preferred airborne camera system manufacturer for all its aircraft types, Thales says. A Thales camera system was installed on an All Nippon Airways (ANA) 747-400 in December 2001, after receiving an STC. It continues to be evaluated by ANA, which ordered the system following a hijacking incident. The system uses a dedicated display in the cockpit.

Thales continues its development of a monochromatic, very low-light, ("near-IR performance") multicamera system to secure the cockpit door area, as well as the cargo hold and cabin. Tom Henderson, vice president of business development for Thales- AIS, had expected to announce a customer for the system by late 2002.

The Thales system interfaces with a cockpit display but also can utilize an EFB, Henderson says. Cameras would provide images of anyone standing within two feet (0.6 meter) of the cockpit door on the cabin side, as well as across the aisle where galley entry doors are located. Thales produces the cameras and the displays for the systems, which also can record images for playback.

In addition, the company has been working on its Jetsat system, which transmits live video imagery to the ground via a secure data link, using the Inmarsat Aero I satellite communications service. The system employs VideoCrunch compression technology, developed by Victoria, British Columbia-based Audio Visual Telecommunications Corp. Thales has tested the system and plans to place it on the market in mid-2003.


Avionics Support Group Inc. (ASG), a Miami-based manufacturer and installer of aircraft electronics, has designed its Visual Awareness System (VAS) for cabin surveillance. According to Armand Wong, ASG’s vice president, it can operate as a stand-alone system, requiring only aircraft power, or expand to integrate with onboard systems. The system includes three components:

  • A single or dual video control display unit (VCDU) with a 4-inch (10-cm) LCD display that will mount into a standard D-zus panel.

  • A single or multiple, integrated camera unit (ICU) that includes a color CCD sensor that automatically switches to black-and-white infrared mode in low-light conditions.

  • And an optional digital video processor that will process video for display on the VCDU and record video for download. If a flight attendant wishes to alert the flight crew, the video processor also will deliver a visual warning.

Server Producers Join In

Companies that have been producing airborne servers for various applications–on-board Internet access, in-flight entertainment, maintenance management or loadable software–have discovered, since 9/11, still another potential application for their products. An airborne data server could be used to store digital video imagery, according to John Martin, director of sales and marketing for Moorpark, Calif.-based Demo Systems LLC, which produces servers. And the imagery could be combined with other inputted data, for example, from the door hatch sensors, to record exactly when cabin entryways are opened and closed. With greater emphasis on aircraft security while the aircraft is not in operation, a server also could store video from externally mounted cameras, says Martin.

In addition, servers can provide a router function, delivering information via satellite communications from the cabin to the operations center on the ground. Spirent Systems-Aviation Information Solutions, for instance, has installed data servers in FedEx Express MD10-and MD-11s for maintenance management. "It connects the fault information from the aircraft to the server, which in turn connects to the ACARS [airborne communications addressing and reporting system] to send down to the corporate network, showing maintenance control a problem to troubleshoot," says Dennis Schmitz, vice president-business development at Spirent. With its open systems architecture, the FedEx server can be expanded to accommodate cabin surveillance data, as well.

"We don’t provide the cameras for cabin surveillance systems," says Schmitz, "but we can acquire off-the-shelf cameras and put systems together, serving as a systems integrator." Spirent also could provide one of its EFB solutions, as a cockpit monitor. (Qantas Airways is a Spirent EFB customer; it began receiving units in November 2002 for its new A330 aircraft.)

One airline has already shown interest in a Spirent cabin surveillance system. "We hope to have one of his aircraft equipped for evaluation by mid 2003," says Schmitz.

Security Inside and Out

Securaplane, Tucson, Ariz., provides security systems for corporate and heads-of-state aircraft, says Richard Lukso, company president. The approximately 500 Securaplane systems on corporate jets range from the most sophisticated to a basic system costing $20,000 to $50,000.

Security systems for corporate aircraft originally were designed to counter threats against CEOs by disgruntled employees and to deter international bombing incidents, he adds. "We used infrared technology to detect intruders and installed our own switches on all doors and panels, so if one is opened, it records the time it happened, where it happened and the duration."

One Securaplane system transmits information to pilots–up to 10 miles (16 km) away from the parked aircraft–when the system is interrogated by a UHF transceiver. Cameras are mounted in the cabin to detect possible intruders. But casual intruders, who may be no more than thieves, are not the primary concern now.

"Since 9/11, the paradigm has shifted," says Lukso. "Now we want to make sure someone doesn’t jump into a fully fueled corporate aircraft and use it as a missile."

Securaplane is working with "a large line of customers in the fractional [ownership] business, making sure those aircraft are not taken off by the wrong pilot," he adds. Solutions discussed within the company include ignition cutouts–which require great care, as FAA will not permit reduced reliability of engine starts–and use of identity cards and fingerprints. Securaplane has a personnel identification system in development, targeted for the second quarter of 2003. (Thales also has been working on a system that recognizes digital fingerprints and security badges for control of flight deck access.)

Lukso says that while 9/11 caused a "little bubble," he has seen a "steep increase in interest in cameras for the last five years." Securaplane also has moved into the air transport market, having purchased Ball Aerospace’s commercial airline sector. Securaplane was the first company to have cameras certified (on Delta Airlines) in an aircraft cabin after 9/11, Lukso claims.

Securaplane also offers a hand-held transmitter, like a pager, that flight attendants can use to alert the cockpit to cabin problems.

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