The increased threat of terrorism has placed a huge impost on travellers. People being forced to purge themselves of problem items such as shoes, keys, laptops, liquids and aerosols, in order to make it through the security checkpoint, has become a familiar scene in airports across the world.

There is the extra time required for the inevitable delays and increased confusion over what can and cannot be taken on aircraft. However, baggage scanning, explosive checks and passenger scans are all necessary security precautions that contribute greatly to maintaining the travelling public’s confidence in the security and safety of air travel.

In all this, the aircraft themselves are becoming almost incidental to the bigger profitability picture of major airports around the world. According to USA Today, governments and businesses worldwide increased their security spending to thwart terrorists nearly six-fold between 2000 and 2006, and homeland security spending was expected to nearly double from 2006 to 2010.

In this time, airports have also found a variety of ways in which to increase profits. Aircraft landing charges now account for just 10% to 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.

Lack of airport perimeter protection

It is ironic then that the additional revenue received is not funnelled back into one of the most vulnerable areas of airport security – perimeter protection. “Current airport perimeter security has simply not kept pace with other areas,” warns Future Fibre Technologies Alec Owen, international client manager.

From a security perspective, the actual perimeter protection of the airport has become the ‘poor cousin’. With landing charges generating such a small proportion of total airport revenue, the amount invested in protecting and securing the perimeter is also correspondingly small. While some airports may have CCTV cameras in the airside ramp and apron area, that is about the extent of it – beyond the apron there is often nothing but random patrols and a fence standing between intruders and the aircraft.

“It’s a difficult situation for airport operators as there is comparatively less income earned on the tarmacs than there is within the terminal, where retailers’ rents help cover the cost of improved security measures,” says Alec Owen. “However, a fibre optic perimeter security system such as FFT’s Secure Fence™ requires no electronics or power in the field, and it is easy and economical to install or expand – for these reasons it delivers the lowest ongoing total cost of ownership (TCO) and becomes financially viable for cash-strapped perimeter security applications.”

Airport perimeter incursions are increasing across the world. In addition to the invasion of Stansted Airport in December 2008 by demonstrators – which delayed commuters and forced the cancellation of over 50 flights, leaving the airport operator facing huge fines – the ‘decorative’ work carried out overnight on planes by graffiti artists was a massive and expensive wake-up call for another major airport. It is now in the process of installing perimeter security systems.

Airport perimeter security often proves to be particularly costly due to the large expanses that need to be protected. A single system of FFT’s Secure Fence can protect perimeters up to 80km long, making it the natural choice to get airport perimeter security ‘up to scratch’ without breaking the bank.