OV AIRCRAFT SECURITY FIRM MAY SEE ORDERS DOUBLE - The Explorer: Import

OV AIRCRAFT SECURITY FIRM MAY SEE ORDERS DOUBLE

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Posted: Wednesday, October 31, 2001 12:00 am | Updated: 7:46 am, Thu Mar 24, 2011.

In its brief history, Securaplane Technol-ogies in Oro Valley, a world leader in manufacturing aircraft security systems, has consistently demonstrated the value of being nimble.

The company has just signed a deal with Delta Airlines for a three to six-month evaluation of a prototype of its newest innovation, a commercial aircraft cabin alert and monitoring system that provides a covert and immediate way for flight attendants to alert a crew when an emergency arises in a cabin.

The system, which can cost from $35,000 to $50,000 to install, also is designed so that members of a flight crew can make informed decisions in determining when it's safe to open a cockpit door and video records any abnormal cabin activities such as air rage.

The goal is to give airline passengers a heightened sense of safety and security that will make them more willing to travel by air.

"Increasing incidents of air rage, hijackings and other emergency situations make it quite clear on-board aircraft security needs to be enhanced," states a company brochure.

"Beyond air marshals and strengthened cockpit doors, there is clearly a need for the cockpit crew to be alerted to a disturbance in the cabin as well as a camera system to monitor the disturbance."

If the testing is successful, Securaplane's system would be the first of its kind to be installed on a commercial airlines in the United States and would vastly expand the company's sales in the commercial airline arena, said Mark Lukso, vice president for marketing and the son of Securaplane President Dick Lukso.

What has made Securaplane a world leader in its field is a line of products ranging from systems that monitor access to a plane, airborne video cameras and wing collision avoidance systems, to wireless smoke detection systems, emergency battery systems and battery chargers.

Ten years ago, nearly all of Securaplane's efforts were focused on the executive or corporate jet market rather than commercial airlines. Today it's closer to 75 percent, said Dick Lukso, and if things work out with the latest testing, it may not be long before Securaplane's interests are equally divided between the two.

That's quite an achievement for a company that entered the commercial airline market just six years ago.

The company was founded in Melbourne, Australia, in 1984 by Bermar S. "Bib" Stillwell, an auto racing legend who went on to a career in aviation management with Gates Learjet in Tucson. Stillwell died in 1999 at the age of 71.

Securaplane, a wholly-owned subsidiary of the Danaher Group and reporting to the Pacific Scientific Safety and Aviation Group, moved to Tucson in 1986 to be closer to major markets and established Oro Valley as its base in 1998.

As manager of flight systems for Learjet's avionics division, Jet Electronics & Technology in Grand Rapids, Mich., Dick Lukso helped pioneer a number of aviation developments, including aviation's first three-dimensional area navigation system that automatically directed pilots to an airport, then guided them to near touch-down.

For that accomplishment, a waypoint was named after him at Reagan Airport in Washington, D.C.

In 1979 he was asked to move to Tucson to head up avionics engineering for Learjet. Six years later he joined the Garrett AiResearch division in Tucson as manager of electronic engine controls. In 1988 he became president and general manager of Securaplane and in 1994 became a co-owner.

Securaplane's current corporate jet client list includes such companies as Gulfstream, Bombardier, Global Express, Boeing, Raytheon, Cessna and Dassault.

Since 1994, Securaplane's gross revenues have swelled from less than $1 million a year to $18 million last year. Gross revenues could drop to $15 million next year due to an overall business slowdown, but by 2005 are expected to double to $30 million, Dick Lukso said.

When Securaplane moved into its current 10,000 square-foot building in Oro Valley, it had only about 35 employees. Now the figure is closer to 110 and by 2005 the figure is expected to grow to more than 200 workers, Dick Lukso said.

In recent years, the company had substantially underestimated its own rapid growth.

The effects of that can be seen in how workers are crammed into quarters that include product testing stations, manufacturing, engineering, and repair and overhaul, together with executive offices.

That situation will be resolved in January when Securaplane shifts its manufacturing operations to leased quarters in a 14,000 square-foot building next door. Marketing operations, now being conducted in a 4,400 square-foot office nearby, will be moved back to the original building, along with engineering and administration.

Business is booming in the corporate jet sector for Securaplane in terms of its airborne cameras and security systems, Dick Lukso said. But in other areas sales have slowed because many companies have pulled in their horns in terms of buying new executive jets as they strive to ward off losses caused both by the downturn in the economy and by the shock waves of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, he said.

Even so, he sees Securaplane's focus on the corporate jet sector as a good thing because that sector holds up better in tough times, he said.

Companies still have to do business, and if they've got million dollar deals cooking, they're not going to be relying on commercial airlines, with their bad on-time track record, to get their employees where they need to be, he said.

"They also fleece us in that businessmen often cannot purchase tickets for a trip two weeks ahead of time, so they end up paying $2,000 while sitting next to a person paying $200 to $300 for the same trip. That is precisely why you are seeing an exodus of business people moving into business jets."

With commercial airlines facing billions in losses due to an estimated 30 percent drop in passenger miles flown and all the other ramifications of Sept. 11, Securaplane's broadening of its market base is even more remarkable.

It's due to a company philosophy that is geared to new product development.

Last year Securaplane became the first company to receive Federal Aviation Administration certification for its wireless intra-aircraft information transfer technology, incorporated in a wireless smoke detection system that earned Aviation Week & Space Technology magazine's 2000 Technology Innovation Award.

"We're not waiting around for the airline industry to recover to try and increase demand for our products," Dick Lukso said. "I don't see airline industry demand growing substantially for the next 10 years, so we'll have to grow based on the expanded line of products we'll be offering."

Although Securaplane's list of commercial airline clients includes such companies as Delta Airlines, US Airways, Northwest Airlines, Air Canada, Southwest Airlines, America West, American Airlines and Federal Express, Dick Lukso has not shied away from criticizing the airline industry for its many security shortcomings.

The criticism, however, has always been tempered by an understanding of the industry's problems in operating on a mere 5 percent profit margin, responding to Federal Aviation Administration mandates, waiting for the FAA to issue guidelines on security requirements and meeting the demands of the public.

"Airlines are operating in a very difficult business," echoed son Mark. "Overall, they've lost more money than they've ever made since they started flying passengers. It's a very competitive market and they're not going to shell out money unless there's a payback, either in terms of responding to a government mandate or getting passengers on board their planes.

"This is how life is in the airline industry. They're trying to be as safe as they can be with as little cost as possible."

Securaplane's newest aircraft cabin monitoring security system was about 75 percent ready to go before the tragic events of Sept. 11, but until that day the general attitude on the part of the airline industry was that there was no immediate need, Mark Lukso said.

The approach until then was that if a threat such as a hijacking arose, everything would turn out OK if crew, attendants and passengers did what the hijackers demanded, he said.

No one ever anticipated terrorists willing to give up their lives by crashing planes into buildings, he said.

"From that day on, all bets were off," he said.

Dick Lukso said he didn't think that such an incident could ever happen again, but added he saw no reason why the nation should let down its guard.

Yet unknown threats are likely to arise as others seek to take advantage of America's weakened economy, he predicted.

THREAT MADE TO AIRPLANE SECURITY COMPANY

Oro Valley police have been directed to increase their patrol activity in the vicinity of Securaplane Technologies, 10800 N. Mavinee Drive, a world leader in the manufacture of aircraft security systems.

The increased monitoring was ordered after a threatening call was received at the company switchboard warning that Securaplane was "going down."

The threatening call came Sept. 17, the morning after Securaplane President Dick Lukso's appearance on NBC's "Dateline" TV program.

Four days later, police were called again when someone in the company's parking lot spotted a gold or tan-colored, small pickup truck, possibly a Mazda or Ford Ranger, driving suspiciously up to and around Securaplane's building several times.

A witness told police that there were two men in the truck, both appearing to be of Middle Eastern extraction. The truck was gone by the time police arrived

The FBI was then notified.

The incident occurred on the same day it was reported that the FBI was seeking two brothers of Middle Eastern background and their "terrorist associates" who might have been living in the Tucson area. The brothers were reportedly in the country on student visas. Arabic flight manuals and weapons were found in their Catalina Foothills apartment.

No connection has been made, however, between the brothers and the incident at Securaplane.

Security at Securaplane has since been intensified as well and there have been no further incidents.

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