The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) requires physical escorts to accompany customers when visiting aviation maintenance, repair and overhaul facilities.
There’s no sense in implementing a security program if there’s no business to secure.
That’s the thought that kept crossing my mind — and likely my executives’ minds — as we read the angry e-mails from our primary customers, aircraft pilots and directors of maintenance (DOM), telling us they would never use our aviation repair services again.
What were they so upset about? In a word: freedom. Or a perceived lack thereof.
When a pilot or DOM brings an aircraft to a service center for repair, they want to ensure it is safe and secure in the facility while it undergoes maintenance. They want the entire process to run efficiently and smoothly. And most of all, they want to be right there with the plane when all of this is accomplished. In an agreement many foreign-owned aviation companies make with the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), however, physical escorts are required to accompany these customers when visiting aviation maintenance, repair and overhaul facilities.
On the surface, this requirement doesn’t seem so bad. But if there is one thing you should know about pilots and DOMs, it is that they love their planes. So when my company, StandardAero, had to tell them they couldn’t be with their planes unless one of our escorts was with them, we were not at all prepared for the backlash that followed.
These customers make up a nearly $300 million business segment of StandardAero’s portfolio, and this new requirement put the company in jeopardy of losing nearly 40 percent of its customer base.
StandardAero was in danger of losing business due to a security requirement. The company needed a solution that could ensure regulatory compliance and not push its customers away at the same time. That solution came in the form of sensing technology combined with high-tech video surveillance cameras that have enabled StandardAero to protect aircraft in the presence of visitors without the need for a physical escort. It is a solution that makes both the government and our customers happy.
StandardAero’s eEscort solution did more than just protect people and property while satisfying regulatory requirements — it truly saved our business.
A Security Issue Threatening the Business
Founded in 1911, StandardAero is one of the world’s largest independent aviation service businesses. The company specializes in maintenance, repair and overhaul for commercial, air transport, military, business and general aviation, industrial aircraft and helicopters. Its 4,000 employees located in 26 facilities in the U.S., Canada, Europe, Asia and Australia serve customers from more than 80 different countries.
In order to comply with a new Department of Homeland Security (DHS) agreement, StandardAero developed and implemented a comprehensive security program in 2008 to protect the people, property and information under its direction or control. Shortly after, however, it became crystal clear that the business aviation community was not pleased with one aspect of the company’s access control plan: physical escorts of visitors, including customers. In short, they no longer felt welcome, and some even felt as if their rights were being violated.
On top of that, the customers expressed to the company that this new requirement would hinder their ability to perform the duties for which they had been employed — and they would take their business elsewhere. Some customers blatantly said they would never come back. StandardAero is extremely customer-centric and the customer satisfaction metric is among the most important to its leadership team.
Naturally, StandardAero quickly sought alternate options. It began a benchmarking process to gauge competitor security practices, only to find that standard procedures at other facilities included visitor logging, badge/code access and the manual checking of IDs. No other direct competitor required a physical escort.
StandardAero continued the process with customer forensics to better understand the customers’ needs and explore various options to satisfy them. By interviewing its customers, the company began to better understand the source of discontent and the underlying issue they had. The issue was not in the quality of escorts provided by StandardAero, rather in the process of physical escorting itself. The overwhelming response was the feeling of distrust the customers felt the company had with them. Some even went so far as to say that they felt like they were in “a prison.”
On top of the distrustful and disrespectful sentiment they felt, customers also saw physical escorting as an inconvenience. It was perceived to cost more and steal manpower away from the aircraft. The process was unproductive and burdensome in their eyes. Each time a customer needed to leave and return to the secured area where the aircraft was stationed — whether it was for a quick restroom visit, lunch break or phone call — he had to wait for an escort, adding to the time it took to perform a simple task.
StandardAero needed a security solution with two goals in mind: It had to be as effective as a physical escort and invisible to its customers. The company reviewed various escort processes to develop a solution that would be equal to the preventative qualities of physical escorting, but would also give their customers a sense of freedom and independence. It also had to ensure that the customers could perform their responsibilities without delay during the visit. In short, the only real way to keep customers happy was to give them unrestricted, physical access.
One solution that was considered was a simple surveillance system in which visitors and personnel alike would have been monitored by a series of cameras located in the hangars; however, this would have been a cumbersome and ineffective solution since security staff would have found it difficult to distinguish between an employee or vendor and a customer. It would have been difficult to protect the aircraft and information with a system that focuses on everything.
An idea arose after researching asset tracking technology that used sensors to help locate physical equipment. The concept involved placing a high-tech microchip on the equipment, which was then displayed to an operator as a simple dot on a screen. StandardAero began researching ways to apply this concept by placing a similar chip on a customer’s ID badge. Instead of displaying a dot on a screen, however, the chips would instead transmit signals that would enable cameras to follow the chip as it moved through an area.
Consultant Mark Pickett, of ABET Alliance LLC, believed in the concept and introduced StandardAero to Chris Wise from integrator Security 101, who agreed to help StandardAero make the idea, dubbed “eEscort”, a reality. The team subsequently presented the concept to the DHS, as well as the company’s Board of Directors for approval.
StandardAero completed the eEscort system at its Augusta facility in 2010. When a customer visits the facility, he/she is given a picture ID badge during registration that is programmed using Honeywell’s Pro-Watch security management system to grant access in authorized areas during the visit. The badge is unique in color and clearly displays the customer’s photo and company name to identify the customer during the eEscort process.
As the visitor moves through the hangars, RFID sensors recognize the presence of a badge through an Electronic Article Surveillance (EAS) strip or chip. These activate the Honeywell cameras installed in each zone requiring escort, and the security operator is able to monitor areas where visitors are located through the facility on central monitors integrated into Honeywell’s MAXPRO VMS (Video Management System).
Signs are placed throughout the facility to notify visitors and personnel that video surveillance is in progress and customers are specifically given a brochure explaining how eEscort works. The brochure has a survey on the back so that StandardAero can ensure the system is working for the customer. Security personnel are able to view the entire operations and business areas that are open to customers using live, digitally recorded video that is stored on the company’s server. These dedicated escorts can monitor the video via the central monitoring station at all times during business hours. After hours, the badges are automatically disabled, and any access granted during this time is done by physical line-of-sight escort.
StandardAero, by implementing eEscort, is able to stress the point to the customers that they are not being monitored specifically; rather, the assets around them are being monitored. Their customers “regain” their freedom, and the company was able to present a revolutionary solution to the DHS as an alternative to physical escorting.
Of course, central monitoring provides little value without a contingency response plan to specifically address suspicious behavior. If suspicious behavior is observed on the monitors, central monitoring can alert personnel in the operations areas via phone to respond immediately.
Security Turns into a Competitive Advantage
With eEscort, StandardAero was able to turn a security issue on the verge of crippling a portion of the business into a competitive advantage by better securing customer aircraft without hindering the customers’ ability to work freely in the hangars. This innovative system is the first of its kind.
On top of that, the system saved a chunk of StandardAero’s business — a point that cannot be understated. To meet the security requirement of a physical escort, the company had no choice but to seek other options. The technological development of eEscort revolutionized visitor management by creating a welcoming experience, while ensuring the safety and security of the people, property and information under its control.
Now, staff is able to monitor visitors on-screen and only need to focus on those being escorted and the aircrafts surrounding them. Many of the responses to the eEscort survey have been favorable and positive. Wrote a recent customer: “The eEscort system is the best system I have run into. I visit most aircraft maintenance facilities and nothing compares.”
That’s a far better response than the angry e-mails the company originally received.
The future looks bright for the eEscort program. A final rule is in the works with TSA to potentially issue a requirement for physical escorting for all airport-located repair stations, regardless of ownership. eEscort could be a solution used more broadly in the coming years.
Melissa Maddox is vice president, legal risk management for StandardAero. Now in its seventh year, the Security Innovation Award is an annual competition held by Security Technology Executive magazine. Of the dozens of projects entered, the winning (top four) projects are chosen by a panel of security industry experts. The awards are open to vendors, systems integrators, VARs, and security or risk executives who want to share their successful collaborative efforts in crafting a unique security solution for a particular end-user. Winning projects included innovative use of technology, along with significant contributions from the vendor/manufacturer and integrator/consultant. For more details or to learn about entering next year’s competition, contact editor Steve Lasky at firstname.lastname@example.org.