FAA ponders security tech solutions

The Federal Aviation Administration is so intent on using technology to upgrade airport security in the wake of Sept. 11 that it has posted a public appeal on its Web site for product recommendations, according to FAA Administrator Jane Garvey.

To rethink its approach to security, the FAA has focused on how to put technology to work fighting terrorism, Garvey told the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee's Aviation Subcommitee at a hearing Nov. 5. The Web site notice serves, she said, "to make sure that we are not missing anything that is out there."

The hearing, held in Morgantown, W.Va., focused on some of the latest identification and security technologies, including biometrics, which identifies individuals using methods such as retinal scans, fingerprinting and face recognition.

Technology is more important than ever to airport security, subcommittee Chairman Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W. Va.) said, because "we must be able to monitor and share real-time information about who is getting on a plane, what are they bringing with them, who has access to airport security areas and aircraft, and ultimately, whether all of those people really are who they claim to be."

Charles Barclay, president of the American Association of Airport Executives, testified that products such as smart cards and biometric fingerprint technology are available to enhance security at airports. Frequent travelers, for instance, could use a personal smart card to confirm their identity and provide expedited access through the airport screening process.

John Selldorff, president of Honeywell International Inc.'s Automation and Control Solutions Service, said a major problem is the lack of integration among the various security and safety-related systems in an airport, "let alone with the building's critical operational systems." The solution, Selldorff said, lies in integrating current and emerging systems. "It is possible today to tie together virtually every aspect of an airport's operation into a single, powerful management solution, in effect, casting a tightly woven, protective net over the airport and its occupants."

Airport security has taken on even more importance after recent incidents in which passengers carrying weapons made it past airport screeners. Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta called a Nov. 3 incident at Chicago's O'Hare International Airport — when a 27-year-old passenger passed a security checkpoint with knives and a stun gun in his bag — "a failure of dramatic dimensions."

In the five years since the White House Commission on Aviation Safety and Security issued a report calling for a national focus on airport security, the FAA has spent $445 million to buy, and help airports install, high-tech screener training systems and technology that can detect explosives in passengers' checked and carry-on bags, Garvey said. The agency plans to spend an additional $97.5 million in fiscal 2002 on security technology.

Late last month, the agency also convened a security research and advisory committee, chaired by John Klinkenberg, vice president of security for Northwest Airlines, to evaluate more than 1,000 industry recommendations on emerging security technologies. The committee's report is due at the end of this month, Garvey said.

A number of technologies currently in development — including "backscatter" technologies that use reflected X-rays to detect hidden explosives, trace detectors for chemical and biological weapons, and mechanical "portals" that screen passengers as they walk through — are under investigation, as are identification technologies based on biometrics, Garvey added.

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