Future Fibre Technologies: overlooked aspect of airport security

29.06.2012 - Future Fibre Technologies: overlooked aspect of airport security. There is widespread agreement that the increased focus on security at airports all around the world since the terr...

Future Fibre Technologies: overlooked aspect of airport security. There is widespread agreement that the increased focus on security at airports all around the world since the terrorist attacks of 9/11 in the US is justified. A familiar scene in airports across the world is of people removing shoes, keys, laptops, liquids and aerosols in order to pass through security check points. Baggage is scanned and passengers are screened for explosives. Most people agree that these are all necessary security precautions and they contribute greatly to maintaining the travelling public’s confidence in the security and safety of air travel.

Passenger and Baggage Screening Is not the Total Security Picture

It’s fairly obvious that the perimeter security of an airport would be considered both a fundamental and critical aspect of any airport security strategy. Yet the lack of progress in this area of security is completely at odds with the dramatic changes seen in passenger screening. We need to question why it’s taking so long for airports to implement perimeter security measures to bring them up to a comparable standard of other protection initiatives.

Globally, perimeter protection at airports seems to remain the ‘poor cousin’ to the passenger security and it’s a growing cause for worry, warn security experts. According to USA Today, Governments and businesses worldwide increased their security spending to thwart terrorists nearly sixfold between 2000 and 2006, and security spending was expected to nearly double from 2006 to 2010. During this time, airports have also found a variety of ways in which to increase profits.

Aircraft landing charges now account for just 10–20% of an airport’s revenue while 50–60% or more of an airport’s income, on average, is derived from car parking, retail outlets and rent. Could this disparity between the various sources of income for airports explain the corresponding difference between spending on the different aspects of security within airports? Or are security managers being blocked by upper management in the misguided belief that perimeter security is a luxury and really not a necessity?

Between October to November last year, 39 incidents of sabotage, attacks, unruly passengers and incidents occurred in airports and airplanes across the world. While the majority of these did not present major threats to the security of the aircraft, some did have the potential to do so. In December last year Stansted, London’s third airport was brought to a standstill after protesters belonging to the Plane Stupid environmental campaigning group breached security fences and occupied the runway. They had cut through the perimeter fence and wandered onto the runway unhindered, remaining on the tarmac for five hours. Scores of flights had to be cancelled and thousands of passengers had to make alternative travel arrangements. The airport is now facing huge fines, and in light of the breach the British Civil Aviation Authority has announced plans for a new system of penalties in an effort to improve services and security at Stansted.

Another incident – this time in the US – resulted in the arrest of a man who climbed the perimeter fence and wandered onto one of the runways at Salt Lake International Airport. In an unpublicised example at an international airport, ‘decorative’ work was carried out completely undetected overnight on parked planes by graffiti artists. The three Airbus sized aircraft were immediately quarantined while aircraft engineers inspected them both internally and externally for other physical damage before they were certified to fly to a maintenance facility for repairs. Repair costs and lost revenue were well in excess of a million dollars. Perimeter security systems were immediately installed.

These examples of perimeter security breaches demonstrate how easily a potential danger and security risk can occur.

Unprotected Perimeters Mean Unprotected Planes, Pilots and Passengers

The ramifications of direct sabotage and breaches such as the above, incur significant financial costs and penalties to the airport, plus an ongoing loss of passenger confidence and trust. Such events will continue to occur in airports across the world, until a more holistic and complete approach to airport perimeter security is implemented.

Perimeter security is all about deterrence, detection, assessment and action and, as every airport is unique in its physical layout and surrounding terrain, the way in which the perimeters of airports are protected also needs to be specialised to suit each airport. Runway layouts, staging areas and terminal buildings differ in design and layout – all of which affect sensor and sight lines.

The terrorist threat remains the prime concern at all major airports. Almost without exception the threat is perceived to lie inside the terminal, where sophisticated security measures are in place to hopefully thwart any eventuality. This notion ignores the larger, and possibly more terrifying threat outside. While security inside the terminal focuses on apprehending a terrorist in the lead up, the physical security of the larger airport complex requires officials to catch terrorists in the act.

An Airport Perimeter Is too Great for Any Patrol to Cover Effectively

The flightline, airport complex, maintenance and sub-staging areas present a security concern that cannot be countered with security officials on the ground. Advanced wide area surveillance systems using ground radar, thermal, fibre optics and CCTV cameras are the only answer. Security begins beyond the fence. Traditional methods of protection include fence systems and fence alarms. The major flaw in these systems is that when a fence alarm sounds the security breach is either in progress or has already occurred. This technology is also prone to false alarms and most systems provide no tracking, assessment or situational awareness capabilities, making it impossible for ground staff to identify point of access or egress until too late!

A diverse range of technologies is currently available for perimeter security at airports, varying greatly in the effectiveness, affordability and accuracy. The major requirements are:

  • Ability to accurately pinpoint the location of intrusion (ideally to within 25 metres) 
  • Immediate intrusion notification to allow security personnel to assess the threat, track movement and react 
  • Minimal nuisance alarms 
  • Minimal reliance on manpower 
  • Ability to work with other (perhaps existing) technologies 

Regardless of the system in place, the need for adequate warning and a response mechanism for an unwanted intrusion is essential and it is not sufficient to simply know a breach of the perimeter has occurred. There are a number of solutions available to support airport perimeter protection:

  • Radar and thermal imaging: Radar and thermal imaging technologies are newly developed detection and tracking solutions. The two technologies work in very different ways, but a key benefit of both is that they allow suspects to be spotted and tracked as soon as they enter pre-defined zones. This means that potential intruders can be monitored while they are still beyond the perimeter, and they can be tracked if they cross it. 
  • Taut Wire: Taut wire signals movement or tampering. 
  • Fibre Optics: An ideal perimeter protection solution for airport perimeters is a fence mounted fibre optic detection system, linking back to the main security centre and ideally interfacing to CCTV cameras to provide visual confirmation to staff so they can determine the exact nature of the intrusions or threats they face. Fibre optic cable is often fence-mounted and is designed to detect and pinpoint the location of intrusion anywhere on the airport perimeter fence. Fibre optic solutions can work with a Graphical User Interface (GUI) command and control system that provides real-time reporting of intrusion. The technology can integrate with existing security systems, such as access control and CCTV, to centralise security monitoring for the entire facility. Importantly, fibre optic technology operates in all weather conditions with no change in sensitivity and virtually no nuisance alarms. As well it requires no electronics or power in the field. It is easy and economical to install or expand and no field maintenance required is an added bonus. Future Fibre Technologies (FFT) has two fibre optic security solution products – Secure Fence and the newly launched Secure Zone. The Secure Fence system is installed at many international airports and FFT expects strong interest also for Secure Zone. Both products works with the company’s patented Alarm Recognition and Discrimination (ARaD) technology. They are able to detect a fence climb, cut or lift – even when they occur during natural events, such as storms, strong winds, and tropical downpours, thereby virtually eliminating the incidence of nuisance alarms. An ideal perimeter protection solution for airport perimeters is a fence mounted fibre optic detection system, linking back to the main security centre and ideally interfacing to CCTV cameras to provide visual confirmation to staff so they can determine the exact nature of the intrusions or threats they face. 
  • CCTV: CCTV refers to the video system of a collection of CCTV cameras and surveillance that act as virtual barriers and assess the situation. The use of television cameras for close scrutiny and observation allows for accurate identification of threat. 
  • Access Control System (ACS): ACS manages various combinations of entry, exit and movement within sterile and non-protected areas. ACS is a subsystem that supports intrusion detection systems
  • Volumetric Sensing: Volumetric Sensing monitors the physical space adjacent to fence lines for system penetration. 


In the Future it is predicted that the increase in efforts and budgets to combat security threats and protect airport perimeters will see more large system integrators entering the security market and forging partnerships with smaller niche companies to offer airport operators greater benefits.

Like all security systems, they are only as strong as the weakest link. For this reason, it is pointless to have the Government via Dotars spending millions of dollars per year in passenger screening whilst perimeter security consists of little more than a chain mesh wire fence. Without adequate perimeter protection systems in place, airport operators are leaving themselves open to significant financial risks.

Should a more serious event occur resulting in loss of life or property, there could be substantial legal implications – especially if it could be shown that the airport operator and/or Government was negligent in this area.


Richard Mayhew
Future Fibre Technologies,
Chertsey, UK
Tel.: +44 1932 895 317
Fax: +44 1932 895 318