Flight safety – digital fingerprint

Security is a high priority in the air freight. Ever since the attacks of September 11th , the requirements were tightened noticeably on air cargo security.

This applies not least against the background that 70 percent of all air cargo being transported in passenger aircraft. Therefore, the security measure has noticeably increased and the costs of adequate monitoring have increased significantly. Hence, airlines have an interest in innovative screening methods which are both secure and efficient.

ESecLog: more efficient screening methods

ESecLog at the Fraunhofer Institute for Factory Operation and Automation (IFF) in Magdeburg serves this objective. Accordingly a kind of ‘digital fingerprint’ for cargo is to be developed, which allows a precise statement about the security status of packages at any time and at any point in the transport chain. Until now costly follow-ups are frequently required if there is a doubt about the safety of cargo during the transport route. Ultimately the whole procedure of screening must be repeated because it is no longer possible to determine whether and which tests have already taken place.

Typically those are items which are transported to the airport by truck. If the cargo has already been checked and considered secured before transportation, the truck is sealed. If it is determined on arrival at the airport that the seal has been damaged or broken, the security checks must be performed again. If necessary all shipments are to be re-checked and possibly opened. With a digital fingerprint – as provided in ESecLog – it would no longer be necessary. Since then it can simply be determined whether irregular manipulations have occurred.

Digital fingerprint: different approaches

To accomplish this, several approaches are being followed. An element of the security strategy is a special marker with which can be determined whether a package has already been x-rayed. So far, this is not possible, so the x-ray scan has to be repeated. Another approach follows the development of an RFID-seal, with which subsequent manipulations can be detected. For this purpose a transponder with a very fine protection wire is attached to the predetermined breaking points of a cargo package. If the package is opened in the meantime, the wire will cut. With a corresponding RFID reader, a controller can then easily recognize it. Even entire pallets can be checked easily and the affected cargo can then be identified precisely. Another interesting tool are 3D-scans to detect the contour and shape of a cargo palette. If a shipment is added afterwards to a palette, the contour changes and this could directly be detected.

There is still need for development

All this information should be provided to the respective controller in summarized form on a tablet PC. He can then trace along a timeline the entire history of the shipment. If necessary he can even recall more detailed information about single stations of the transport chain and performed checks. ESecLog is funded by the Federal Ministry for Education and Research (BMBF). The research and development of the IFF takes place in close cooperation with airlines, such as Lufthansa Cargo.
The project started in May last year, according to the project plan it is to be completed by April 2016. It will therefore take some time until an operational version of the digital fingerprint is available.