Getting Ahead of the Curve: Tom Slavin has secured his FBO; now he wants to secure an industry

Oct. 8, 2002

Tom Slavin has secured his FBO; now he wants to secure an industry

CLEVELAND – He sees it as an investment in good customer service, a cost of doing business, a marketing opportunity – a moral responsibility. Tom Slavin has the digital eyes of technology watching over his store, and his employees are watching the technology. As are the airport police. Yet all else at the FBO is as it was. This is an example, he says, to take to the TSA and to the industry, to spur a serious dialog about general aviation security before it’s mandated externally.

Million Air Cleveland has fortified its FBO with technology: 8 digital color cameras; 3 monitors; computerized gates/fencing; internet access; and a wireless feed to airport police who can directly monitor ramp activity when needed.

"General aviation airports and the general aviation community are at a very critical juncture," says Slavin, president of the Million Air at Burke Lakefront airport in downtown Cleve-land. "If they do not act assertively, then under the circumstances I think that various regulatory agencies and TSA are going to seek to regulate us. I am taking the position of advocating self-regulation.

Burke Lakefront Airport lies next to downtown Cleveland, adjacent to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame and the city's professional sports
stadiums. Says Tom Slavin, "Obviously, a dirt strip in Nebraska probably doesn't pose the kind of threat to our country's infrastructure that a Burke Lakefront might."

"Now what does that mean? Under the aegis of NATA [National Air Transportation Association], this is a tremendous opportunity for our industry to actually have self-enforcement regulations that are pretty stringent. I think it’s in the country’s and the GA community’s best interest to really work together to address the issue of security. Security and safety are paramount issues."

Toward that end, Slavin would like to see NATA come up with regulations created by the FBO industry that the association would enforce through inspections and a rating system. Ratings would be based on a formula much like the one recently submitted to the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) by a taskforce of the American Association of Air-port Executives. AAAE puts GA airports into four categories, from the most rural to the most urban.

Says Slavin, "Each one of those categories has a different, measurable risk quotient associated with it. Obviously, a dirt strip in Nebraska that’s 3,000 feet long doesn’t pose the kind of threat to our country’s infrastructure that a Burke Lakefront might, being located five minutes from the center of a metropolitan area of some 2.5 million people."

James Price, operations manager and Tom Slavin, president

He was preparing to submit his ideas at an NATA security briefing in Washington made up of representative industry and government officials, in late September.

"It’s clear that NATA should really try to define separate policies and procedures, and separate levels of infrastructure, that are necessary at different airports based on their category. It’s very important that we come up with a rating system for safety and security, like a Michelin-type of 1-star, 2-star, 3-star, 4-star. Users should know who is comporting effectively with security and safety mandates and who is not, and where on that index of our trade association everybody falls."

Now that his fixed base operation is technologically secure, Slavin seeks to work with NATA – actually, through NATA – to sell TSA officials on visiting his facility to see what can be done to secure the GA system. His operation, he says, can serve as one model of how industry can offer security to a customer base that is generally not a threat to the nation.

At the same time, Slavin has implemented increased security training, much like he has taken the lead on safety training in recent years. He was involved in the development of NATA’s well-received Safety 1st program, and in fact his was the first FBO to have his line personnel certified under the program.

The Insurance Angle

Though he has invested some $100,000 in upgrading security, Slavin sees a return on that investment through his insurance premiums, as well as

Tom Slavin has spent some $100,000 upgrading FBO security. Says ops manager Jim Price, "Every visitor is challenged and effectively tracked as to whether they go where they're supposed to go."

through increased traffic from aircraft owners who are making security a top priority when choosing an FBO. In fact, the insurance broker recently came calling for a premium review and the result was no increase – virtually unheard of in today’s in-surance market. The FBO actually increased its liability limits, he says.

"We haven’t had any increase in our premium, so it works," he says. "There is a recognition by the insurance companies when you address the issues of safety and security.

"If you do things right, focus on safety from the standpoint of zero tolerance and you believe it, and you work on Safety 1st as a process, when you work similarly on security, you can accomplish these things."

The System

James Price, operations manager, worked every step of the way on installation of the security system with the supplier, Navigance, based in Tulsa. "It’s a common sense approach," says Price. "It’s the high tech components that make it a special system."

Tech and non-tech components of the security system include ...

• 8 digital cameras (3 pan-tilt-zoom), 3 monitors (including customer service and the line office);

• 3 proximity card readers, part of NATA’s Compliance Services system;

• separation of employee and visitor/tenant parking lots;

• a wireless link to airport police, with voice capability – the police and FBO can view the same activity [due to budget constraints at the airport, all equipment was provided by Million Air];

• via the Internet and FBO-provided software, customers can link up to view their aircraft on the ramp;

• computerized gates – visitors are tracked via camera from the time they enter the grounds.