AVSEC in the Age of COVID

AVSEC in the Age of COVID

This is the dawning of the age of COVID, the age of COVID COVID! COVID! (with apologies to the 5TH Dimension and Age of Aquarius) — When the moon is in the Seventh House And Jupiter aligns with Mars Then peace will guide the planets And love will steer the stars This is the dawning of the Age of Aquarius The Age of Aquarius Aquarius! Aquarius!

This from the 1967 musical Hair, a time when the world was undergoing a revolution of sorts, peace, free love, hope anything seemed possible. Woodstock was still two years away and the youth were rebelling against the norms and mores of the past, a New Age was dawning (in theory anyway).

In 2020 we started to experience a different kind of “revolution” the arrival of COVID, a worldwide revolution, everything changed almost overnight. This was particularly tough on the aviation industry which was decimated by the pandemic in every part of the industry not least in AVSEC.

AVSEC has long been the Ugly Sister in the Aviation Cinderella story, a much needed but often poorly treated sometimes barely tolerated part of the story, until we are needed of course. If you think this may be an exaggeration, think how much you love the security officers at check in? Or those in the concourse or at the cargo terminal; those seen only as an inconvenience or delay to your imperial progress through life.

AVSEC keeps many of the high-profile operations in conflict areas operational at risk of life and limb but you will never read in popular press or mainstream media of the work that they do to keep flights safe and keep relief supplies and equipment moving.

Most people do not appreciate the scope of duties performed by AVSEC and the critical part they play in ensuring the safety and security of all in the aviation sector, crew, passengers, family, airport people; any aviation user including those who consume or use products shipped by air, no AVSEC no travel, no package from Amazon, no fresh fruit from the tropics on your table, no visit to family on holidays. AVSEC has a hand in your day in some way every day.

Let us consider a few tasks that fall to AVSEC (not just those you see):

• Passenger and baggage screening

• Hold baggage screening

• Cargo screening

• Document verification

• Behaviour detection

• Perimeter security

• Searching and securing of aircraft

• Securing of airports

• Passenger security

• Dealing with unruly passengers

I am positive that my AVSEC colleagues will be able to add many items to this list.

Your safety and security from the time you arrive at the airport of departure until you leave the airport of destination is in the hands of AVSEC professionals, be they police, military, government officials or contractors. This applies equally to the security of cargo and goods you send by air.

AVSEC is not respected whether this be as part of the broader law enforcement community (Chicago perhaps) or in South Africa where AVSEC is only regarded as one step up from the gum stuck to your shoe. Of course, there will be howls of protest that this is not so, but I know the truth from personal experience. Just ask if the AVSEC officer is regarded as a competent professional and you will have your answer. Ask how he is remunerated, trained, and treated in his company and at the airport he serves the answer will, at the very least, surprise you.

My own passion is cargo security, strange I know but there it is!

Pre-COVID cargo security was at the lowest end of the AVSEC spectrum, far below those charged with airport and passenger security. Cargo security operations happen in areas of airports not accessible to the public, not seen or appreciated by the public and even, in a lot of cases, relatively unknown by some in the AVSEC community. And underappreciated, in an area that does not feel a lot of love cargo security got the least.

Cargo operations happen 24/7 and the security people work anti-social hours in difficult circumstances under high pressure. Cargo screening is very difficult (think of the range, scope and complexity of goods shipped from capital equipment to fresh produce to courier and express items, all must be screened), complex, requiring intensive training and a lot of experience to be effective, this applies if you are using an x-ray or are part of an EDD Team, it is demanding, high-pressure work. It is, without any doubt, the most difficult and demanding part of AVSEC

I remember being on an ICAO course populated mostly by colleagues in AIRPORT security (always capitalised to reflect their relative importance) only my friend and I cared about cargo, I mean, “You are in cargo security, really? And you were not demoted into the role? You like it!”

Then came COVID.

Suddenly survival of air carriers depended on cargo operations and those that knew something (anything) about cargo security found themselves in demand with a seat at the high table, the unthinkable has happened, cargo security is suddenly sexy.

We are the ones who keep the carriers going, who facilitate the movement of goods quickly and safely through the screening process and onto the aircraft. It took time but I think that people now realise just how much depends on professional, efficient effective cargo security and they realise that the people in the sector of the AVSEC spectrum are highly competent professional worthy of respect.

May it long remain this way, cargo and cargo security has great people who love working for you.