Aircraft Company Provides Phone-based Office Access via BLE

By Claire Swedberg

Since deploying an access-control system from HID Global at its Dublin headquarters, Avolon has rolled the system out to its other sites, providing touchless access to workers who twist their smartphone at a secured location to gain entrance.

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Aerospace company  Avolon is employing a solution that leverages Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) technology for physical access at its headquarters in Dublin, Ireland, as well as at three other global sites. The system allows authorized employees to gain entrance, use elevators and access secure areas via their smartphones. The solution, provided by  HID Global, enables the company to maintain a secure perimeter without excessive security presence, according to Avolon.

Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, the technology has enabled workers to obtain credentials wirelessly on their phones, receive personalized access according to their role at the company, and use their phones at any Avolon site. HID’s Mobile Access BLE and iCLASS readers are deployed at key locations, including at building entrances and other secured areas, and workers can simply download the app, present their phone to a reader and gain access without having to touch doors or use badges, cards or lanyards.

Since the systems was taken live, there have been fewer cases of employees being locked out or needing assistance to access buildings, says Allan Dawson, Avolon’s workplace service team manager, and the company now has better centralized management for providing the appropriate credentials for every employee. The aircraft leasing company has a fleet of approximately 850 aircraft.In 2017, it acquired U.S. plane leasing firm CIT Group, doubling the size of its business.

At that time, the company required more office space and thus moved to a larger facility. It now has additional sites in Hong Kong, New York and Florida. When Avolon moved to its Dublin headquarters, its staff occupied all of the new construction’s 77,000 square feet. Previously, the firm had rented part of a building, which it shared with other tenants. At the new location, the company had the opportunity to install a building-wide access-control system for its own employees. Avolon tested HID’s readers, Dawson recalls, and decided to adopt the solution.

Traditionally, access control had required individuals to remember to bring their ID cards to work, and to carry them as they stepped out for lunch or used a bathroom. As such, the card could often be forgotten. Therefore, the firm sought to enable its workers to access the building using their mobile phone. The use of smartphones provided several benefits, Dawson explains. For one thing, he says, while workers would forget an ID card on their desk or at home, “Most people treat their mobile phone like a bar of gold—it’s rarely out of their sight for more than a few seconds.”

Allan Dawson

Additionally, Avolon realized that enabling each worker’s phone to be the point of authentication, no matter where they might be located, would provide personalized access control for every individual across all of the company’s sites. Traveling workers would be able to access facilities via their phones, rather than having to acquire an access card for each specific site. The solution was deployed by systems integrator  Summit Security Systems, using HID Mobile Access readers. The management and allocation of access-control credentials is provided via the cloud-based Mobile Access management portal, known as Origo.

Employees first acquire access permission by downloading the Mobile Access app on their iOS- or Android-based device, and then requesting authorization to use their phone to access Avolon’s businesses. The software confirms employees’ IDs, enrolls them in the HID platform and e-mails them a security code with which they can access the app. Their access authorization is linked to their smartphone or another device. Access can be personalized to allow workers to enter specific secured rooms within the building, as well as the parking garage and bike storage.

HID’s Seos software stores each individual’s credentials on a cloud-based server. That was an important feature, Dawson says, since Avolon wanted a system that could capture and store data in the cloud so the solution could be accessed from any location, enabling workers to update or confirm access authorization. This is especially vital, he notes, with so many personnel working away from their offices. For instance, some workers joined Avolon during the pandemic. With the new solution in place, “We can remotely give them access directly on their phones.”

The readers are deployed at entrances, as well as at the shared parking garage. The garage deployment required engineering to enable a different access-control solution for Avolon’s employees, while workers from other companies used their own access system. Avolon installed the HID reader inside the gate, with integration to the gate controls. The system offers different security levels as options and allows users to gain access with a tag (the most common use case). A second authentication factor is available for higher-security areas; users can leverage the phone’s facial ID function or enter their device password on the phone to be identified.

Workers who arrive by car can roll down a window, hold out their phone and give it a twist, thereby prompting the reader to detect the phone’s ID and, if authorization is approved, the gate to open. They can then drive into the parking garage. By requiring the twist motion, the system is only triggered to communicate with the phone of someone seeking access. That prevents erroneous reads of phones within the vicinity that might be carried by individuals not seeking access.

The solution is also installed in the bike-storage area, a dedicated space in the parking garage that can be accessed either from the garage or via an elevator. The BLE reader gates are used at six building entrances, as well as at the parking garage. In addition, readers are deployed at the entrances to file areas, storerooms, IT rooms and elevators. The company recently replaced its existing readers with HID Signo readers that require a touch-security PIN for two-factor authentication.

Avolon uses the collected data only for access control, Dawson says, and does not store or view the information for personnel management. “This is purely an access system,” he states. “It lets you in, it lets you out. We’re not using it to track people’s movements.” The system has proven more beneficial during the pandemic, he adds, since workers can gain credentials without reporting to an office, as well as access the site without having to touch door handles or cards. The company is also deploying a CCTV system that can link a three-second video clip with that action for security processes. “It’s purely a security system,” he states, to protect the business, property and workers.

The technology leaves room for expansion over time. “The scalability of our solution lays the groundwork for Avolon to easily extend mobile access across more of its facilities,” says Harm Radstaak, HID Global’s senior VP and head of physical access-control solutions. The system has helped Avolon to collect some unexpected data, such as the models of smartphones being used, along with whether they are, for instance, running the latest version of iOS.

“[It’s] useful for us to see what type of devices are out there,” Dawson says. If an older operating system poses potential security problems, the company can send a message suggesting the user upgrade their software to increase security. When it comes to deploying new technology, he states, “We’re always interested in the next thing. It wasn’t a hard sell. The benefits are the consistency across all of our locations.”