Call for Systems Integration: Boeing: How we gather, share information will shape the fight against terrorism

Aug. 8, 2004

Inside the Industry

Call For Systems Integration

Boeing: How we gather, share information will shape the fight against terrorism

By John F. Infanger

August 2004

Few in America have been as involved with system-wide implementationof passenger and baggage screening as Tony Swansson, project directorof Boeing’s Airport Security Programs for Homeland Security andServices. The Australia native served as the operations director responsiblefor the deployment of explosive detection and trace detection systems at more than 400 U.S. commercial airports in 207 days in 2002. Swansson recently spoke with AIRPORT BUSINESS regarding the current Boeing contract with TSA, lessons learned to date, and what he sees as an overriding need for all airports — systems integration. Here’s an edited transcript.

Swansson began his career in the Royal Australian Navy, specializing in communications systems engineering. He also worked with Boeing Australia, responsible for operations and maintenance of several Australian Department of Defense communications facilities.

AIRPORT BUSINESS: Now that the December 31, 2002deadline has been met, what is Boeing’s involvement with airportsecurity?

Tony Swansson

Swansson: We still have a contractual relationship with the TSA. There is still some airport modification work that we’re undertaking as well as we manage the sustainment activity for all of the deployed equipment for checked bags and checkpoints for the TSA. We have an industry team made up of Boeing and the major original equipment manufacturers.

We have some other activities, more related to the future direction that Boeing is headed. We are putting together a pilot program that we sort of called ‘airport of the future’ which is taking into consideration a lot of integration at the airports with systems and security. That’s where a lot of our focus is at the moment.

We are pursuing opportunities directly with airports as well as internationally.

AB: Where is the Boeing pilot program headed? Isthe intent to create a template or model?

Swansson: It’s more of a model. While airports are fairly unique in their own right, a lot of the systems are similar. So, what we’re doing is we’ve chosen an airport [Midway] and we intend to demonstrate the benefits you can achieve through integrating stovepipe systems to get them to work together to provide better decisionmaking information for both the airport folks as well as the federal security directors associated with those airports.

AB: With systems integration, what exactlyare we talking about? What systems are we attempting to integrate andwhere will that lead us?

Swansson: Look at something as simple as fuel. On a normal day that might not be that important, but there could be a series of incidents where all of a sudden knowing exactly how much fuel is in that tank becomes critically important from the security perspective. It’s having access to all of the data so that as conditions change, federal security directors can have better situational awareness of what all these particular pieces of information mean.

Right now, people have access to the data, it’s just an inability to share it when it’s needed. Systems integration is not talking about replacing a lot of the existing systems, it’s talking about being able to extract relevant information from disparate systems, and being able to share it as conditions change, and sharing it quickly. As you know, when something goes wrong, people need to be responsive very quickly.

AB: Are you finding that, as you look at airports,there are types of information or systems that airports currentlydo not have that will need to be brought in to make the systems integrationapproach work?

Swansson: There is a lot of new technology that is emerging that will probably help shape things of the future. Look at RFID [radio frequency identification] as an example. As the cost of tags comes down, you’ll see that technology become a lot more pervasive in the industry because it can add such value to the transaction. What we’re trying to do is get the architecture, the infrastructure, in place so as new technologies come along you can just introduce them and take advantage of them faster. Just getting RFID technology on its own is not going to be the end-all; it’s only when it’s going to be integrated with other systems that it’s going to add more value.

AB: As you look at technologies, what areyou telling airports are the ones they should be looking at most seriously?

Swansson: The two I see that are most important are technologies associated with tracking, such as RFID or bag tags, and the other is identification of people. Is that person who they say they are and how do I know it?

Certainly, biometrics is the emergent technology but there are subsets of it. Is it going to be fingerprinting, eye scanning, DNA?

Our approach is we’re looking at getting the architecture and infrastructure in place so that if somebody decides fingerprint technology is going to be a global aviation standard, we want to be able to plug in and deploy and take advantage of it quickly.

There are a lot of different people testing lots of different technologies, but you have to have architectures behind them that take advantage of the information that those technologies will be able to deliver.

AB: It would seem that we’re going to need a standard when itcomes to biotechnology. Is that important?

Swansson: I think so if you consider that one of the primary drivers for what we’re doing is security, and terrorism is a global issue. If we’re really going to be effective being able to share information across a wide geographic area it is important. To be able to do that you do need to have standards.

It’s no secret that one of the challenges the military has had over the years is all about interoperability. That’s what we’re really talking about on a commercial basis. We need to make sure that there are standards so we can share information locally, regionally, nationally, and globally.

AB: Do you see Europe, or Asia, or Australia goinga different way? Or are we doing this in synch?

Swansson: I think there is a lot of collaboration between Europe and the U.S. In Europe I think they call it their Gold Standard on what sort of criteria airports and aviation needs to do. I think TSA in particular is working in a collaborative manner to make sure there is some linkage. That to me is critical for long-term success in the security environment.

AB: With aviation, Europe and the U.S.often don’t see eye toeye.

Swansson: Absolutely. There may be some different processes involved, but if the top level protocols and standards are agreed upon that allow two countries to work together, then it’s the right thing to do. ICAO is trying to develop some of the top level standards that people need to adhere to.
AB: Last year at this time, Boeing and the airportindustry groups were in the midst of a study on airports, security,and economics. What’s the status of that study?

Swansson: That study, the U.S. Cap model, is ongoing. It looks at the economic impacts that some of the decisions that the government is considering and what financial impact it will have on the airports and airlines — the stakeholders.

The important point from that model is, top level decisions have widespread impacts and it’s important to understand how they affect all of the stakeholders.

AB: Are there other key points?

Swansson: The first is, our recognition that we are trying to deal with a very asymmetrical type threat in terrorism, and that requires a highly integrated infrastructure that we currently don’t have in the U.S. and globally. That’s going to require, in my mind, some changes in mindset on how we gather and share information quickly.

I’m seeing a lot of thought going into those network-centric type operations now, so it’s going to be interesting. What role does a company like Boeing play in that type of environment? If you look at our history as not necessarily just the manufacturer of commercial aircraft but also our integrated defense business, the key competency that Boeing has is, in our view, how you net these systems together to gain more information than what you could achieve by just looking at two systems side by side. It’s the old story of the sum of one plus one being greater than two.

If we can net a lot of systems together we can gain a lot more value.

AB: You were personally involved in theinstallation of many of the screening systems. What were some key lessonsyou learned from that experience?

Swansson: Every airport is unique in its own right and you have to look at it that way. There is no one size fits all.

The key to success in my view is having stakeholder involvement. Under the current situation it’s far more conducive to do that than what we were able to achieve back in 2002. The systems deployed back then aren’t highly optimized. As the TSA is working with the airports on getting the in-line systems in place, there is a greater opportunity now to optimize the systems, both from a security and cost perspective.

AB: How confident are you about Congress’s ongoing desire andability to fund all of this?

Swansson: The concern that I have is that because of the 9/11 incidents there was a lot of focus on the aviation industry. But we have ports and other sorts of transportation that really need to be effectively covered as well. I really have a lot of empathy for the folks who are trying to identify the priorities and how to fund them.

There’s going to be pressure from those other sectors as well and there’s going to have be a balance. I don’t believe the budget is going to satisfy everybody that believes they have a need.