Customized Security System Helps Aspen/Pitkin County Airport Address Taxiway Incursion Issue

Ken Wysocky
Published in: 

A new security system at Colorado's Aspen/Pitkin County Airport (ASE) is helping the general aviation airport mitigate its previously recurrent problem of taxiway incursions. 

The system, designed by Searidge Technologies, uses thermal-sensor cameras and customized intelligent-video software to instantly alert operations staff when pedestrians and vehicles deviate onto a taxiway. The awkward location of ASE's terminal ramp - immediately adjacent to its sole taxiway - makes the taxiway prone to accidental entry, explains Dustin Havel, the airport's assistant aviation director - operations and facilities.

"The ramp and taxiway are essentially all the same pavement, just delineated by painted lines," Havel elaborates. "Planes are parked 26 feet away from the taxiway. As a result, we were faced with a number of pedestrian and vehicle deviations in this area, especially during times of high traffic flow."

Project: Movement Area Security
Location: Aspen/Pitkin County (CO) Airport
Cost: $325,000
Funding: Airport Revenue
Project Timeline: July 2012 - March 2013
Components: 6 thermal-sensor cameras; 2 monitors; 2 servers; customized software
System Design: Searidge Technologies
Camera Installation: Alpine Technologies
Camera Manufacturer: FLIR Systems
Network Integration: Mitchell and Co.
Benefits: Real-time taxiway incursion detection & video tracking; automated alerts to airport personnel

Some of the deviations occurred when customers unwittingly walked from the 437,231-square-foot ramp onto the taxiway to take pictures of nearby parked aircraft, lured by the beautiful Rocky Mountains as a majestic backdrop. In other instances, passengers who dropped their cars off for valet parking service inadvertently took wide turns onto the taxiway.

Between pedestrians and vehicles, the airport recorded 19 taxiway incursions from 2010 through 2012 - the last three years before the new equipment was installed.  "Fortunately, none of them created real safety issues or any close calls (with taxiing airplanes), but the FAA had identified this as an issue that we needed to address," reflects Havel. "I'm pleased to say that in this past year since the system went online (in March 2013), we've had no vehicle or pedestrian incursions."

With space constraints making it impractical to change the cramped ramp/taxiway configuration and unwanted attention from the FAA, the new security system has relieved pressure for both frontline employees and airport management. Because the system automatically alerts personnel about taxiway incursions, staffers no longer have to actively monitor security cameras, notes Havel. 

Customized Technology

ASE used airport revenue to purchase its $325,000 intrusion-detection system. The system uses off-the-shelf hardware and proprietary Searidge software to run a surface management system called IntelliDAR. Alpine Technologies installed the cameras, and Mitchell and Co. integrated the camera system communications network with the airport's existing network.

The system's customized software represents a novel application of existing Searidge technology, says Rick Koller, the company's business development manager. "This is the first time we've customized our software platform to function solely as a security application," Koller explains. "It utilizes the same technology platform we use at other airports to detect, position and track aircraft on runways and taxiways ... we've just configured tracking system algorithms to identify and send automated alerts for all non-aircraft targets."

The surveillance system includes six FLIR thermal-sensor cameras that monitor the line between the movement and non-movement areas. Because the cameras are mounted on existing airport buildings and a light pole, costs were minimal for infrastructure improvements such as installing electric cables and the system's overall exterior footprint is small, notes Koller.

The other main hardware is a pair of monitors in ASE's operations center. One shows views from all six cameras; the other provides real-time information when a deviation occurs.

Automated Alerts

When the software detects an incursion into the movement area, it automatically sends an alert to one of the monitors in the operations center. At the same time, it alerts key personnel via email. Personnel can receive alerts on their computers, smart phones or any other mobile device with email capabilities, Koller notes.

In the operations center, the lower half of the monitor displays a customized two-dimensional map of the airport, with each pixel on the map tied to a real-word global positioning system coordinate. When a deviation occurs, its location is highlighted in red on the map.

"In essence, the camera's software knows that each pixel correlates with a real-world point on the ground, which provides a high level of accuracy in tracking and positioning capability," Koller explains.

As the location is highlighted, a pop-up window simultaneously appears in the upper left corner of the screen, producing a real-time thermal image of the intruder as the camera continues to track it. In the upper right-hand corner of the screen, an event log appears that records the date and time of the intrusion and the location of the camera that sent the alert.

To eliminate time-consuming nuisance alerts, the system can be configured to distinguish between aircraft, people, vehicles and even wildlife, Havel specifies.

"During the brainstorming phase of the project, there was hope that this system could allow us to be a little more proactive by alerting us as something approached the line," he says. "But there was not enough space to work with to achieve this goal."

The airport has, however, discovered an unanticipated benefit. "The system has alerted and recorded some wildlife - foxes and coyotes - coming onto our airfield," Havel reports. "The technology allowed us to track their movements and determine where they entered and exited ... then we took the necessary steps to eliminate this access."

Real-time vs. Reactive

With conventional systems that use surveillance cameras, operators must constantly watch monitors to detect intrusions. As a result, operator fatigue or even a routine bathroom break can lead to undetected intrusions, Koller notes.

"Most times, perimeter security is reactionary, not proactive," he continues. "Our system provides a proactive approach to security by alerting users of intrusions. Alerts happen in real time and are sent to a mobile device or any device with e-mail. Clients can customize the distribution list of people to alert ... there's no limit to how many people can be on the list."

The system's archiving capability is another key feature. Because the event log archives all deviations, operators can perform what Koller refers to as "after-forensics" - reviewing a previous intrusion by clicking its log entry to see a photo of what caused the alert.

Welcome Change

Havel describes the system's installation as "smooth." The only hiccup occurred when the cameras' original positions did not provide adequate coverage. "After we relocated the cameras, the accuracy of the system improved significantly," he reports, noting that most airport projects include such unexpected elements.

Aspen's cold weather added a challenge for Searidge. "We overcame it by using thermal camera sensors that work well in low-visibility conditions, such as heavy fog and snow," says Koller. "The thermal cameras detect and present images of heat radiation, which means we can see baggage carts, humans and even wildlife in adverse weather conditions where visibility would be severely limited by using a traditional video camera."

After more than a year of experience with the customized security system, Havel is glad ASE looked "outside the box" for a solution to its taxiway incursion issue. He's especially glad to have found an automated system that helps minimize the chances for human error.

Koller reports that automated security systems are trending upward in the aviation industry, because they allow users to focus more fully on other tasks by eliminating the need for active monitoring.


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