ATM Modernization, Business & GA, Commercial

Cabin Surveillance: Industry Debates the Need for Video

By David Jensen | May 1, 2006
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FAA officials are reviewing the responses to the agency’s notice of proposed rulemaking (NPRM), titled "Flight Deck Door Monitoring and Crew Discreet Alerting Systems." The NPRM–docket number FAA-2005-22449, amending Part 121–represents the agency’s second step towards securing the flight decks of air transport aircraft. (The first step was the locking of hardened cockpit doors.)

Now that pilots are secure in their cockpits, the issue is twofold: assuring a protected means for the pilots to exit the flight deck for, say, physical needs, and providing a means for the cabin crew to discreetly communicate with the flight crew, should security breaches or emergencies occur in the cabin area. The NPRM calls for approved equipment and/or approved procedures to achieve those objectives. It applies to Part 121 aircraft with 60 passenger seats or more and a maximum weight of more than 11,310 pounds (45,500 kg). The agency proposes a two-year period for compliance to the rule.

All comments to the proposed rule were due in November 2005. FAA officials say they could not give "a definite, or even approximate, date for the publication of a final rule," in response to an Avionics Magazine inquiry. "Generally, Congress gives us 16 months after the comment period closes to act on the proposal." Action on the NPRM, therefore, may not occur before early 2007.

"That action could range from implementation of the proposed rule without changes all the way to withdrawal of the proposal entirely," FAA officials add. Withdrawal probably is unlikely, as the NPRM allows compliance without requiring new equipment. Thus, little investment is required of the U.S. carriers, most of which remain cash-strapped.

The NPRM allows at least two methods to comply with the proposed rule covering monitoring from the flight deck. One method would be a video system that allows the pilots to view the area just outside the cockpit door on one or more screens. The other method would involve some other means of monitoring the door area, including the conventional peephole. Both methods would require audio confirmation to the flight deck by a cabin crewman that the door area, indeed, is clear for pilot egress, as is the lavatory. Since virtually all cabin doors have peepholes, compliance to the proposed rule, therefore, would be procedural, requiring little training.

Organizations such as the Coalition of Airline Pilots Associations (CAPA) see little reason for video systems. In its comments to NPRM, the group states, "There are only a limited number of reasons for the [cockpit] door to be opened once it has been secured for flight." The association adds that "judiciously established procedures allow safe and effective passage into and out of the flight deck." CAPA goes on to say the video cameras "can be defeated and may provide a false sense of security and comfort."

In a comparable vein, Boeing states in its comment that "adopting a procedure using existing aircraft equipment [emphasis placed on "existing"] that accomplishes the intent of this requirement is robust enough to ensure security without potentially exposing some operators to a large retrofit investment."

Still, the NPRM states that there is "a consensus that cameras to monitor and view the area outside the flight deck door may add value." And a rapid response team (RRT) for aircraft integrity and security, created by the Secretary of Transportation, recommends that the "industry evaluate the use of cameras and lighting outside the flight deck door within six months." FAA also encouraged the use of such surveillance when it awarded $3.3 million in grants to 11 U.S. airlines to test video systems.

European carriers–including Lufthansa, British Airways, Air France, Virgin Air and KLM–proceeded with the installation of cockpit door video monitors shortly after the terrorist attacks of 9/11 and even before mandates were issued. Europe’s Joint Aviation Authority (JAA) had considered a ruling regarding cockpit door monitoring (JAR-OPS 1.255), but decided it was more a security issue than a safety issue, and therefore requirements to equip were left to the individual European states. Germany, the Netherlands and UK, among others, have introduced or passed legislation comparable to FAA’s proposed rule and to the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) Standard 13.2.3(b) of Annex 6, Part 1. In each case, video systems are strongly recommended.

National carriers outside of Europe have installed video surveillance systems, as well. These include Singapore Airlines, Malaysia Airlines and South African Airways.

Most European carriers have a two- or three-camera surveillance system on each aircraft. These include one charged couple device (CCD–camera) located above the cockpit door and one or two other CCDs positioned to monitor the galley area. On most of the systems the CCDs transmit to one monitor, positioned on a pedestal near the pilots’ seats or on the back wall of the flight deck, and they include no means of recording the video imagery. More expensive, cabin-wide surveillance systems have been developed, not only to warn of terrorists trying to enter the cockpit, but also to provide recorded video imagery that can be used to prosecute unruly passengers.

In its NPRM, FAA calculates the estimated cost of installing video systems in the U.S. air transport fleet, based on numbers developed at the end of 2003. Assuming the retirement of some 550 aircraft in 2004 and 2005, the agency estimates that 5,640 aircraft would need to be retrofitted to comply, while 4,360 new aircraft, manufactured between 2004 and 2013, would have video systems as standard equipment.

FAA further assumes that a large jet would require two or three CCDs, while a regional jet would need only one, and the equipment cost for retrofit would be $17,000 and $10,000, respectively. If installation took place during a regular maintenance check, the agency estimates that it would take 48 labor hours ($3,840) for a large jet and 36 labor hours ($2,880) for a regional aircraft. Bottom line: retro-

fitting a large jet would be $20,840 and a regional aircraft, $12,880, according to FAA. It’s a fairly modest cost until a carrier multiplies it by hundreds of aircraft.

Of course, video monitoring can be more expensive, and more sophisticated. For instance, Minneapolis-based Sun Country Airlines has tested a system that includes a wireless component that links electronic flight bag (EFB) screens with an onboard server, which is connected to the control panel managing the CCDs (May 2005, page 34). FAA financed that testing, too.

Discreet Communication

While much of the NPRM, as well as the comments it drew, is focused on cockpit door security, the proposed rule also calls for a discreet means for the cabin crew to alert the flight crew of emergencies and disturbances. Again, compliance could be procedural, involving "subtly keying the interphone in a specific manner," according to the NPRM.

However, the interphones are located at the flight attendant jumpseat stations, and during much of a flight, the attendants are in the aisles, serving and monitoring passengers. Not surprisingly, then, the Association of Professional Flight Attendants (APFA) strongly endorses a portable, hands-free, wireless means of communication.

"The security breaches onboard the aircraft that led to the events of 9/11; Richard Reid, suspected "shoe bomber" on American Airlines flight 63, December 2001; and other subsequent threats have confirmed the need for a wireless communication device," APFA writes in its comment. "The cabin interphone system may have been sufficient when originally installed, but instantaneous communication is now needed," the association adds.

Other segments of the aviation industry have voiced little opinion, taking an apparent wait-and-see stance regarding such communications. Non-U.S. carriers clearly have found less need for such devices, compared with video surveillance.

Nevertheless, a small (three-person) company has come up with a wireless device designed especially for airline cabin crewmen and sky marshals. Capitol Electronics in St. Paul, Minn., has developed a system that includes 900-MHz portable "prompts" which send a covert alarm signal (a 50-milliwatt data burst) to an alert panel in the cockpit. It received a patent for the design in December 2005, according to Jane Pahl, Capitol Electronics’ president.

The five-sided prompt measures 2.25 inches (5.08 cm) at the widest point and weighs just 2 ounces (56.7 grams), including a 3-volt lithium battery. It can be placed in a pocket or hooked to a belt. Tests in a Northwest Airlines B747-400 demonstrated that the signal was adequate from all locations in the aircraft. "Since then we’ve made a second model that will work in the A380, with a signal range of more than 420 feet [128 meters]," says Pahl. The alert panel, designed to fit on DZUS rails, is 28-volt-compatible and weighs 32 ounces (907 grams). The design is simple. "Some say, `why not have a button to do this and a button to do that," says Pahl. "I stayed away from that. In case of an emergency, just give me one big fat button."

The transmitter can be programmed to avoid accidental alerts. Pahl suggests a one-second button push, but the transmitter can be programmed to require up to a one-minute depression to alert the flight crew. Pahl claims an "abridged DO-160 test" has been conducted with the system and adds that measures have been taken to assure that radio frequency emissions don’t interfere with the avionics.

A basic cabin emergency coms system for a B747 would cost about $18,000 per aircraft. That accounts for a receiver and 12 to 13 prompts, or transmitters. The company has decided that all systems also should include two outputs. One creates an automatic mute mode during the landing, when pilots want little distraction. The other is a weight-on-wheels mode, which will deliver a signal to the cockpit automatically when the aircraft is on the ground.

Other outputs, or modes, might include an output that would alert all flight attendants of a disruption or emergency by activating a chime or causing the "No Smoking" sign or floor lights to blink.

The systems can be programmed for an entire fleet or for a single aircraft. Capitol Electronics has had six systems produced for demonstration and test. Pahl says she has no desire to establish a manufacturing capability and would contract out production, should a demand emerge.

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