Airbus seeks PI Pilots

A1FlyBoy

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Airbus, the European jet manufacturer, is planning to build concealed cameras into the light fittings above the seats in its aircraft. The idea is to let the crew monitor passengers and spot hijackers before they strike. The cameras also work in the dark.

The move is part of an attempt to reassure people who have been frightened off flying since the 11 September attacks.

At an airline technology conference in Prague last week, a delegate from the VALK Foundation said that before 11 September, none of the 4000 people it has helped to overcome their fear of flying had ever cited hijacking as the root of their fear. But since then it has become the main fear for a third of its clients.

The industry hopes that well-publicised improvements in airline security will quell passengers' fears. Airbus, working with American aerospace technology company Goodrich, thinks the best strategy is to let passengers know that everyone is being watched by hidden cameras.


Infrared image


One plan Airbus is considering, says the firm's cabin security expert Rolf Gödecke, involves hiding a tiny camera inside the light fittings above each passenger seat, surrounded by a ring of infrared LEDs. The cameras will normally work with ambient light, but switch to infrared when the cabin is dark.

Black-and-white images captured by the cameras will be fed to screens in the cockpit via the cables used to distribute pictures to seat-back video screens. Although only some lights will have cameras, potential terrorists will not know which ones.

A less ambitious system, which Airbus is now fitting to all its new planes, will monitor the area behind the cockpit door. Under new rules, cockpit doors are being reinforced to protect the flight-deck crew from attackers. But they still need to open the door to get to the toilets and to let cabin crew members bring them meals and drinks. So Airbus is putting three overhead cameras with wide-angle lenses around the cockpit door to send pictures to an LCD screen in the cockpit.

"Two cameras leave a blind spot," says Stein. "If carefully sited, three give a hijacker no hiding place."
 
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