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Sat, Oct 04, 2003

Cameras Could Be Next Step In Commercial Aviation Security

Someone Is Watching

What's next from the TSA? Smile. You're on Cabin Camera.

The TSA is investigating technology that would put cameras both in the cockpit and cabins of passenger aircraft so that personnel on the ground could keep an eye on things in the air. Pilots are none too happy about the idea either. They say cameras in the cockpit would infringe on their command authority, allowing someone on the ground to monitor -- and perhaps even direct -- events on board the flight. But advocates of the new system say it's another weapon in the war against terror.

The technology appears to be available. Earlier this year, Boeing equipped a 737 with seven onboard cameras. The signals were bounced off Boeing satellites and received at test centers in McLean (VA) and Seattle (WA). The cameras showed the cockpit from behind the pilots, the first class cabin and the main cabin from a variety of angles. Ground personnel were able to switch cameras at will by simply touching their computer screens. Sure, there were a few garbled pictures, but FAA Program Manager John Loynes said, "There were no insurmountable problems."

Boeing also has hand-held technology that allows someone in flight to communicate communicate back and forth with ground operators using both audio and video. But the FAA says the idea of using cameras and hand-held communicators to monitor flights in progress is a very preliminary one. A spokeswoman said there's still a lot of testing to be done and decisions to be made before the systems become a reality.

It's an idea that's been around for ten years or so. Every time it comes up, pilots rage. So far, that rage has kept cameras out of the cockpit. They complained that ground personnel could misinterpret what they see in the video images and cause problems for air crews.

But Dave Stempler, president of the Air Travelers Association, says this is an idea whose time has come. "In the old days, one of the flight crew could come out and check things out, but they can't do that anymore. These days, we want to keep the cockpit impenetrable to terrorists or hijackers."

FMI: www.faa.gov, www.boeing.com

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