The recent focus on airport security has undoubtedly been around passenger security. However, this should never be considered the total security picture. Perimeter security is both a fundamental and critical aspect of any airport security strategy.

While the need for increased perimeter security measures on perimeter fences is clear, it can be costly for airports to implement these measures as airport operators earn comparatively less income on the tarmacs than they do from within the terminal, where retailers’ rents help to cover costs.

Of course, the cost of inadequate security can far outweigh the costs of preventative measures.

Over recent years there have been several highly publicised perimeter security breaches, in which intruders have gained unauthorized access to restricted areas of airports. In one recent example of a perimeter intrusion, three Airbus-sized aircraft were covered in graffiti while they were parked on the apron at an international airport.

The three aircraft were immediately quarantined while graffiti was removed and 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, far more than the cost of the perimeter security system, which was subsequently installed.

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

An entire airport perimeter is simply too great a distance for any foot or vehicle patrol to cover effectively. The flightline, airport complex, maintenance and sub-staging areas present a security risk that cannot be countered by simply placing security staff on the ground. To provide effective, around-the-clock coverage, advanced surveillance systems incorporating technologies such as ground radar, thermal, fibre optic intrusion detection and CCTV cameras are the only answer. Security begins at the fence.

Traditional methods of protection include fence systems and fence alarms. The major flaw in these systems is delay. When a fence alarm sounds, the security breach is either in progress or has already occurred. This technology has also been prone to nuisance alarms and most systems provide no tracking, assessment or situational awareness capabilities, making it impossible for ground staff to identify the point of access or egress until too late.

On a positive note, there is a diverse range of technologies available for perimeter security at airports, varying greatly in degrees of effectiveness, affordability and accuracy. The major requirements for any system are:

  • Ability to accurately pinpoint the location of intrusion in real time
  • Immediate notification to allow security personnel to assess the threat and react
  • Minimal nuisance alarms so manpower and resources are not wasted
  • Ability to work with other (often 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 potential solutions available to support airport perimeter protection:

Radar and thermal imaging

These newly developed technologies are 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 potentially while they are still beyond the perimeter, and they can be tracked if they cross it.

Taut wire

Taut wire signals fence movement or tampering. This works very well, but is very expensive, especially over long distances.

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.

Fibre optic cable is designed to detect and pinpoint the location of intrusion anywhere on the airport perimeter fence, providing 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, the newer fibre optic technologies operate in all weather conditions with no change in sensitivity and virtually no nuisance alarms. As well they require no electronics, power or infrastructure in the field, nothing but fibre. It is easy and economical to install and no field maintenance required.

These newer fibre optic technologies employ advanced signal recognition and discrimination technology, which overcomes the traditional airport problems of nuisance alarms, whilst maintaining maximum sensitivity to intrusion events.

Video Analytics

Video Analytics analyses CCTV video for specific data, behaviour, or objects. Video Analytics should not be confused with video motion detection (VMD), which was prone to nuisance alarms. The use of CCTV for close scrutiny and observation allows for verification of an intrusion and accurate identification of the 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 in controlling access to individuals to certain areas of an airport.


DVRs or digital video recorders are the video box that records, stores, manages and analyses CCTV video in a digital format. A network video recorder or NVR is an internet protocol based device that sits on a network. Because they are IP based, network video recorders can be managed remotely via a LAN or over the Internet giving greater flexibility. The basic function of an NVR is the simultaneous recording and remote access of live video streams from an IP Camera.

Volumetric sensing

Volumetric sensing monitors the physical space adjacent to fence lines for system penetration. Typically infrared, microwave or proximity sensors but can also be CCTV with Video Analytics.

By implementing one or more of these solutions, airport operators can prevent security breaches which can result in loss of life or property and lead to substantial legal implications, especially if it could be shown that the airport operator and/or Government was negligent in this area.

For further information, please visit the FFT Security website.