Control Airport Access Without Eliminating It


Control Airport Access Without Eliminating It

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 command 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: one 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. Access status and needs vary greatly, ranging from flight crews and baggage and maintenance crews, to security staff and taxi and shuttle operators, from ticketed passengers to in-terminal food service and retail employees, from delivery drivers 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 airport 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 locks, have been used as barriers to partition access-controlled areas. And for nearly as long, access was obtained by the possession and use of a mechanical key. While effective, as facilities grew in size and complexity, these systems grew expensive to maintain as retooling was required as keys were dispersed and lost or stolen.
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, if 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 have often been employed in AVI (automatic vehicle identification) access systems to manage vehicle access to parking or secure perimeter facilities, and improving throughput and security.
But to get long-range reach, higher energy frequencies are required, putting these technologies into the ultra-high-frequency (UHF) and microwave ranges. Both effectively solve the 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 capability to work with battery-less, passive tags. The microwave bands possess longer ranges and are less susceptible to interference but generally cost more.
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.
Though based on similar technologies, they are different enough that interchangeable credentials were never developed. This sometimes caused facilities to forego the benefit gain of long-range access control because 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.
Because UHF possesses the passive tag capability, cards are being developed combining UHF with HID Prox, 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 manufacturers have boosters capable of reading and transmitting these “combi-smart cards” up into the 2.45 GHz range to gain added security and resistance to interference. This opens yet another realm of integration, because 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 technology such as a taxi management system that identifies driver and vehicle, accurate congestion-based and pay-for-access pricing can be applied seamlessly without slowing traffic flow.
With this versatile capability, airports can now design and manage complex traffic, taxi 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 Airport in Finland, a lack of physical space relative to passenger volumes requires that taxis be brought into a staging area before on-site 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 customer and 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 and use of a staging area, dual -ID capability is tied into the security, audit and billing programs.
By doing so, the airport operators are able to ensure, for example, that only authorized drivers in authorized taxis have access at allotted times. 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, a similar project is being explored at the San Francisco airport, as well as at a few other U.S. facilities.
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-to-building access seamlessly. Now that this technology has arrived and integrations are starting to take place, perhaps the question is not so much if, but when.
Craig Wilson is Marketing and PR Manager for Tuxen & Associates, agent for Nedap AVI in the Americas. He can be reached at

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Craig Wilson
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