Seeking success in safety and security
Assembling the right team to find the right solutions
BY JIM PROULX
The terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, dealt the aviation industry - and, indeed, the entire world - an almost unimaginable shock. Boeing sprang to action literally the next day to search for ways to make the air transport system still safer and more secure.
The aviation community quickly focused on finding concrete steps to enhance security. Two panels appointed by U.S. Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta analyzed where the system could be made stronger in October and made specific recommendations.
Boeing Commercial Airplanes acted by appointing longtime aviation security veteran Charlie Higgins vice president of Safety and Security Services. Higgins led the company in its effort to work with the entire industry - airlines, regulators, pilots, flight attendants and other manufacturers - first to define requirements and then set standards for secure aircraft.
Higgins then helped focus the Boeing effort to meet the new requirements - strengthened flight deck doors, modified transponders, crew-alerting systems and video surveillance.
"My role was to make sure that everybody stayed together and talked this stuff through," Higgins said. "As the Mineta team's requirements became more defined, it became clear that there would be a two-step process on the doors.
"We at Boeing looked where we could add value versus the airlines, and we determined that the first phase (strengthened door locks and barring devices) was too short a flow time for us," he said. "We were ready to work on the more complex second phase of the solution (a completely new door that meets strengthened intrusion-, explosive- and ballistic-resistance requirements, while still complying with Federal Aviation Administration rules for sudden decompression and emergency crew exit) - that's where we do a good job."
Door designs for all Boeing aircraft are in final certification programs, and seven major U.S. and three international airlines have ordered some 3,300 Boeing-approved door-strengthening kits.
With this important program up and running, though, Higgins came to realize that Commercial Airplanes might not be the right venue for some activities in the security arena.
"The question arose about what the company could do in a broader security arena - encompassing, for example, air traffic management, airports and so forth. With our base of knowledge in Commercial Airplanes, we found it wasnt a good fit for us, Higgins said.
Higgins and his small team spent much of the fourth quarter of 2001 examining a couple of opportunities for security-related ventures and learned that such a venture would fall outside Commercial Airplanes' range of expertise. But the company also learned there was a place for such ventures.
"If you look at what Boeing's Space and Communications business does, such as management of the Space Shuttle program and large-scale integration of things other than airplanes - it made sense for them to concentrate on further ventures in this kind of work," he said. To that end, Boeing appointed Space and Communications' John Stammreich as its vice president of Homeland Security to direct companywide efforts in the security arena.
Commercial Airplanes' expertise, Higgins and his team decided, is in the commercial airplane itself and the peo-ple on board. That is why the company is teaming with Advanced Interactive Systems Corp. to offer security training to federal air marshals and to airline personnel, combining Boeing's extensive experience in aircraft and flight-crew training with AIS' expertise in law-enforcement instruction. The two companies also bid on a contract to train airport screeners but were not selected.
With Homeland Security leading companywide security initiatives, Higgins' job has changed to focus on what it had been designed for in the first place - to make the air transport system safer and more efficient.
"We are continuously searching to find ways to move aviation safety to a higher level. It has to become an important part of the business for everyone - for airlines, for Boeing, for regulators," Higgins said.
Even before the tragedies last fall, the company was working to find ways to make increased safety part of a real business plan for airlines. The key to rapid implementation, Higgins said, is that whatever new safety concepts Boeing puts forward serve to improve airlines' business as well. "If we can show that a way to improve safety also improves efficiency, then that new concept buys its way onto the airplane," he said. "We have to partner with people at the airlines to help them sell the economic value internally."
One venture that Higgins and his team are working with is establishment of improved radio navigation and required navigation performance procedures.
"Several years ago, Boeing began installing Global Positioning System receivers as basic equipment. This gives us an opportunity to navigate the aircraft independent of the ground," Higgins said. In emerging markets - China, the Middle East and the rest of Asia, for example - "there's not much in the way of ground-based navigation. This program would give us the opportunity to improve approach and landing precision at many airports that have limited ground-based navigational aids."
The technology and technique are being used successfully, Higgins noted. A major U.S. carrier employed RNP/RNAV procedures to help it access a relatively remote airport that often is closed by inclement weather. By showing the increased accuracy and safety of RNP/RNAV navigational approaches to that airport, the carrier got permission to start using it under lesser weather condi-tions than before.
"And [the airline] ultimately was able to schedule more flights" to that airport, Higgins said.
Higgins is showing customers that if they adopt similar procedures - with Boeing's help to equip the aircraft and train their crews - they can reduce flight delays and increase flight frequency.
"And it's a case where a safer, more accurate procedure also helps the airline gain efficiency," he said.
Safety and Security Services is part of Commercial Aviation Services, but works as a sort of "virtual business," Higgins said. It doesn't have any products of its own, nor does it have any profit-and-loss responsibility. Rather, its role is to identify areas in the safety arena where Boeing can add value and help create programs to address those areas.
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