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Cameras in the Clouds

In an attempt to reassure frightened passengers, airlines are stepping up on aircraft security measures. Jet manufacturer Airbus is building surveillance cameras into its cabins.


Big Brother may be watching you on your next flight

Even Concorde passengers had to eat their meals using plastic cutlery in the wake of the September 11 attacks.

Understandably, the September atrocities turned the focus onto security, with airports and airlines stepping up on safety measures all over the world.

However, despite efforts to make airports terrorist-proof, anomalies still occur. Reports of passengers getting through luggage controls with combat knives, knuckle dusters or stun guns in their bags have proved that no airport control can be one hundred per cent secure.

In addition to airport security, airlines have been introducing methods of stepping up security on board aircraft.

In an attempt to reassure passengers on board, Airbus, the European jet manufacturer, is planning on concealing cameras into light fittings above seats. The cameras will be monitored by cabin crew in the hope of spotting hijackers before they strike.

According to the VALK foundation, an organisation devoted to treating fear of flying, none of the 4000 people it had helped to overcome their fear of flying before the September attacks had ever cited hijacking as the reason for their angst.

But after the atrocities it has become the main fear for a third of their clients.

Quick response

Jerry Witowski, President of Goodrich Sensor Systems, who developed the monitoring system for Airbus, says "the urgent need to monitor passenger cabins, and cockpit entry areas required our people to respond quickly to create the system for Airbus".

The "Cockpit Door Video Surveillance System" consists of a colour display with integrated video computer, three video cameras and a system controller. An infrared light source built into the video cameras allows monitoring in the dark.

Cameras in the cabins have not been installed yet. But Airbus has already begun installing surveillance systems to the area behind the pilot cabin door.

Airbus, like other airlines has increased aircraft security by reinforcing the doors to pilot deck. But as flight-deck crew still have to get in and out, the new monitoring system will send images from around tha cabin door to an LCD screen in the cockpit.

However, in the case of a hijacker, will these measures really be of any help?

Not enough

Security analysts say it is unlikely another suicide hijacking attack similar to those in September last year would occur in short order, and that a bomb attack would be more likely.

A bomb, which has got through luggage controls could be placed in the hold, far from any aircraft surveillance system.

Phil Condit, chief executive of Boeing, whose company produced the two 757s and 767s involved in the carnage in September, says that stepping up aircraft security would not solve the problem of airline terror attacks on its own. "I believe the aircraft is the last line of defense. We clearly need to do a number of things ahead of that".

But airport security can be patchy. While airports have the technology to detect metal and plastic explosives, they are still not able to pick out liquid explosives.

Looking for the ultimate protection against a repetition of the September 11 is proving a viscious circle to security analysts.

Making passengers use plastic cutlery on Concorde may be a sensible step. But even this step appears futile, as stewardesses continue to pour wine from a bottle - yet another potential weapon.