Control airport access without eliminating it

Effective access control and traffic management at airports

As a symbol of modernity and the ‘Global Society’, the airport stands as one of the greatest testaments to man’s ability to capitalize on his powers of imagination and cooperation to shape the world in which he lives. And while jet travel, and the gateway to the world it provides, is certainly a marvel, an airport represents another marvel as well: a marvel of controlled access.

Airport properties are divided into a multitude of restricted access areas. Airside and landside is one basic divide, but beyond that, subdivisions permeate the facility. The access status and needs of those individuals varies greatly, ranging from flight crews, to baggage crews, to maintenance and fuel crews, to security staff, to taxi and shuttle operators, to ticketed passengers, to in-terminal food service and retail employees, to delivery drivers, to airport administrators, to flight controllers...the list goes on and on. Compounding it all is the pressure of rigorous scheduling and the ever impending ‘costs of delay’ reality reinforcing the need to move through the facility efficiently and securely to conduct jobs and reach destinations in a timely manner.

Controlling access without eliminating it

For centuries, hardened doors and gates, controlled by mechanical locks, have been employed as barriers to partition access controlled areas. With the arrival of code based, electronic access control, transmitted via keypads or short range RFID technology, an access code created uniquely for an individual could be generated and activated and, when the need arose, simply deactivated. Access became more secure and more affordable to maintain, so much so that it revolutionized the door locking world.

Soon after, long range RFID technology was developed to extend the reach of access technology. Robust and effective, these technologies and have most often been employed in AVI (automatic vehicle identification) access systems to manage vehicle access to parking or secure perimeter facilities and improving both throughput and security. But to get long range reach, higher energy frequencies are required, putting these technologies into the UHF and Microwave ranges. Both technologies effectively solve the long range problem and each has distinct advantages. 

Both technologies effectively solve the long range
problem and each has distinct advantages 

A quick note on how these technologies differ. Generally, lower energy UHF holds the advantages of
lower cost readers and the ability to work with battery-less, passive tags while the microwave bands
possess longer guaranteed ranges and are less susceptible to interference with semi active tags.

So while the proximity card reader has become ubiquitous, and AVI is ever gaining popularity, there has remained a divide between long range and short range access control in terms of credentials.  While based on similar technologies, they are different enough that credentials were never developed that were interchangeable. This sometimes caused facilities to forego the benefit gain of long-range access control as the proposition of additional or tied-to-vehicle credentials seemed cumbersome and tipped the costs of implementation to outweigh the benefits. That is until recently.

One card, many kinds of access
Now, a new trend in card based access is emerging with the advent of multiple technology cards that allow for building and parking/vehicle access, and even purse enabled smart cards (for access to money), to be merged into a single credential. As it’s UHF that possesses the passive tag capability, cards are being constructed combining UHF with HID Prox, MIFARE Classic, MIFARE DESFire, or other formats allowing them to be read with both long range UHF readers and short range proximity readers. However, this does not leave the microwave range out in the cold. Some market leading manufacturers have boosters capable of reading and transmitting these “combi-cards” up into the 2.45 GHz range to gain added security and resistance to interference. This opens yet another realm of integration as a single credential allows for much more versatility and facilitates the flow of access all the way from the vehicle into the building. 

By adding the availability of “Combi-Smart Cards”, yet another layer of integration becomes possible. Allowing things like taxi management systems to be devised that identify both the driver and the vehicle so that accurate congestion based and pay-for-access pricing can be applied seamlessly without slowing the flow of traffic.

The future is now
With this versatile capability, airports can now design and manage complex taxi, traffic, and parking management systems in a multitude of ways that best fit the physical parameters of the facility without requiring a multitude of credentials to be dispersed. For example, at Helsinki-Vantaa, a lack of physical space relative to passenger volumes requires that taxis be brought into a staging area before onsite dispatch to the terminal for access. In this scenario the collected RFID information is used not only for billing, but also as a time log for the staging process, ensuring fairness and efficiency for both the customer and the service provider.

In a more advanced integration as exemplified at London’s Heathrow airport, where physical space and volumes are such to allow both direct flow taxi access to the terminal, as well as use of a staging area, dual -ID capability is tied into the security, audit, and billing program. By doing so, the airport operators are able to assure that only authorized drivers in authorized cabs have access at allotted times. As mentioned, this improves security and enhances fairness of access, but it also creates a rock-solid audit chain in the case of billing discrepancies. As for this side of the Atlantic, similar projects are being explored at several airport as as we speak.

Will this mean yet another revolution in access control? Possibly. For years, many in the Security and Parking industries have looked for a way to integrate perimeter and building access control seamlessly. Now that this technology has arrived and integrations are starting to take place, perhaps the question is not so much if, but when.

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