This October, ACTS-Aviation Security celebrates its 20th anniversary. Founded in the days following the tragic events of September 11th, ACTS started as an offshoot of Gate Gourmet with little staff, support, or vision for a prosperous future. Despite these humble beginnings, ACTS has grown to become the industry leader in aviation and airport security with long-term goals of expanding its operational expertise into new markets.
“The future is very bright for us, and ACTS is a very dependable, strong, and successful company that is going to be here for years to come,” said Harold Jones, Regional Manager for ACTS.
Jones is among the longest tenured employees at ACTS, having been one of the first group of employees hired by the company in October 2001. At that time, Jones was managing the transportation in Atlanta for Gate Gourmet, a global airline catering company. In response to the attacks of September 11th, many airlines began downsizing their catering operations which led to significant layoffs at Gate Gourmet.
At the same time the Federal Aviation Authority (FAA) ordered that all catering operations needed to be inspected and cleared for prohibited items before being delivered to the airline and loaded onto their aircraft. The mandate to begin these screenings was issued with just one day’s notice.
“As you can imagine, logistically, it was a mess. It was a nightmare at first,” said Bob Nightingale, retired Vice President of Compliance, Quality Assurance, and Training at ACTS. Prior to September 11th, Nightingale was the General Manager of Gate Gourmet’s Atlanta 302, one of the largest flight kitchens in the U.S. The FAA’s catering inspection mandate required Nightingale and other leaders at Gate Gourmet to identify staff, their responsibilities, and the procedures which would enable them to meet the new screening requirements.
“The FAA came out and inspected us, although they didn’t know what they were looking for either. But over a couple of weeks, we kind of got an idea of what it was going to be like and then we looked to make improvements,” remembered Nightingale.
Jones and dozens of other employees, many of whom had been laid-off due to downsizing, were recruited and transferred from Gate Gourmet into roles conducting inspections of aviation catering at the new security-focused organization, Gate Safe. With little administrative support and few tools, like uniforms, vehicles, or training, the outlook was bleak. Yet Jones and his colleagues never doubted their abilities.
“My Dad always stated that: ‘Son, if it was easy, anybody could do it. So never accept the test that is easy, that anybody could do, as you’re not anybody.’ I was determined to assist on building this company up from a company that no one thought was going to make it.”
Nightingale, Jones, and the leaders at Gate Safe hired about 100 new people with a variety of backgrounds in aviation catering, airline operations, and the FAA. Their experience guided the new organization to outline an inspection process which fulfilled the FAA’s requirements. Having suffered through the downturn of the aviation catering industry, the opportunity at Gate Safe reignited the staff’s spirit. Nightingale remembers employees visiting the airline station managers in their markets, explaining the service capabilities of Gate Safe and winning contracts for not only catering inspections but also aircraft guarding, mishandled baggage, and eventually cargo screening.
“The energy was contagious,” Nightingale felt. “We had no limitations to what we wanted to do. Everyone wanted to find the new business. There was a huge amount of enthusiasm in the company and a real sense of entrepreneurship.”
After 16-years of ownership and with an emerging strategy to focus on the core catering business, Gate Safe was sold by its parent company, gategroup, to ICTS Europe in 2017. ICTS Europe represented a global security service organization with decades of experience protecting people and property in transportation, public, and private sectors. Through that divestment, which was led by Damien Flynn, then President of Gate Safe and Managing Director, Gate Aviation, Gate Safe was rebranded into ACTS and became the U.S. subsidiary of ICTS Europe.
What impressed Nightingale through the transition into ICTS Europe was the increased focus on security and enhanced operational leadership through the new Chief Operating Officer, Sam Juchtman. Having managed the security program at London Heathrow for ICTS Europe, served as the Chief Security Officer for ELAL Israeli Airlines, and overseen security for the Israeli Embassy, Juchtman was a decorated security leader with global aviation and counterterrorism expertise.
“Once Sam came on, the whole security training program came into focus, at least for me,” explained Nightingale. “Because I had not been exposed to that and Sam was really good at it. Plus, with Sam and Damien’s liaison with the ICTS people, we were able to start pulling that knowledge and information base and what we needed to do as a company to improve our training together. And I think that was really the thing that go us to where we are right now.”
Today, ACTS provides security services to move than 140 clients across the U.S. Our agents and officers provide more than 138,000 hours of guarding services per month. Through our competitive compensation package, corporate support, and a dedication to the development and delivery of comprehensive employee training programs, many of the initial employees hired in October of 2001 continue to work for ACTS. Their commitment to customer service and fulfillment of our compliance standards has enabled ACTS to retain 96% of our customers each year.
Building upon this success and drawing upon its aviation security expertise, ACTS mirrored the portfolio of ICTS Europe by leveraging Juchtman’s relationships to seek out contract opportunities for security services at airports across the U.S. Since 2019, ACTS has established long-term partnerships with Northern Kentucky-Cincinnati International Airport (CVG), Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport (MSP), and Pittsburgh International Airport (PIT) providing more than 3,700 hours per week in security coverage.
Nightingale played an integral role in transitioning these sites from other security service providers to ACTS by mentoring the officers, integrating compliance programs, and establishing quality assurance standards. Work, which was very similar to the catering operations, Nightingale says.
“Train your people. Get your people in the right place. Make sure they are following their training. We found that we were very good at that. And then on the compliance side of things, we found that we were head and shoulders above our competitors because we had programs in place. We had ways to follow-up with them. We had ways to capture data electronically. All those things where all these other organizations we took over from, didn’t have it. Plus, we had the mindset that if you had a problem, we’re going to jump on it from a corporate level. We’re going to get involved. We’re going to get to the root cause. And we’re going to fix it, which you would think would be standard operating procedure, but a lot of these other companies just didn’t do that. We were able to give a level of support to the management at these airports and their operation, that they hadn’t seen in forever.”
While growth within the aviation and airport security industries remains a top priority, ACTS is again expanding its service capabilities by exploring partnerships with customers in Data Centers, Transportation and Logistics, Higher Education, Government, and Corporate settings. Companies in these markets will receive value and realize peace of mind through the security operations, the compliance programs, and integrated customer service solutions which ACTS delivers.
As ACTS celebrates its 20th anniversary, over the next 12 months, the organization will feature a new logo on official communications to honor its past, acknowledge its new roots, and affirms its mission. As featured to the right, the logo pays tribute to Gate Safe by featuring the same star found within the retired Gate Safe logo. Set against a light blue 6-point star, the same star and coloring featured in the flag of the City of Chicago, ACTS acknowledges the new location of its corporate headquarters, Chicago, by O’Hare International Airport. As the American subsidiary of ICTS Europe, the patriotic Red, White, and Navy coloring throughout the logo demonstrates ACTS’ commitment to delivering comprehensive security solutions and ensuring the safety of everyone across the U.S. Finally, the phrasing “Celebrating 20 Years of Security Excellence” salutes the dedication and service which the frontline workers of ACTS have delivered over the past two decades.
For Nightingale, who retired from ACTS in May 2021, looking back over the last 20-years and forward to the future, he believes the outlook is bright for ACTS.
“I hated to leave. I look back at all the people I worked with through the years, and it was a great group of people. We did what we thought was right. We survived and we thrived. I’m very proud to have been a part of that.”
Jones shares that same sense of accomplishment. Combining his 21-years of service to Gate Gourmet with his tenure at ACTS, Jones marks his 41st year with the company in 2021. He predicts that with the support of ICTS Europe, ACTS will survive the unprecedented challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic, seize new business opportunities, and continue to live-up to its reputation as “America’s Most Trusted Security Partner.”
“We have accomplished a lot as a company, and I feel that we are a trusted partner in the aviation security business,” said Jones. “We’ve got a reputation where we’re part of the team and we have the knowledge, the skill set, and the confidence of our customers that we’re going to help secure and protect the flying public. It gives me pride to know that this little company, that no one thought would make it, we’re independent, we stand alone, and we represent the brand of ICTS as the face of America. To go from where we were to where we are now, it speaks volumes.”