Decorum: The Continuing Saga
Lead Editorial

Decorum: The Continuing Saga

Federal Aviation Regulations 91.11, 121.580 and 135.120 state that “no person may assault, threaten, intimidate, or interfere with a crewmember in the performance of the crewmember’s duties aboard an aircraft being operated.”

Interfering with the duties of a crewmember violates federal law. And yet, weekly we see and hear reports about yet another unruly passenger outburst, clash or assault — some sexual in nature and others merely physical — occurring on aircraft or at the gate.

The repercussions for passengers who engage in unruly behavior can be substantial. Fines can be imposed by the FAA or the offenders can be prosecuted on criminal charges. FAA can propose up to $37,000 per violation for unruly passenger cases.

Under the new zero tolerance policy, the FAA says it will not address unruly passenger cases with warnings or counseling. The agency will pursue legal enforcement action against any passenger who assaults, threatens, intimidates, or interferes with airline crew members.

But still, it doesn’t seem to be enough to deter people from acting out in such negative and outrageous ways which compromises the safety of everyone. Can anything else be done?

Let’s look at the numbers. There have been 5,664 unruly passenger reports as of the writing of this column so far in the year 2021. In addition, 4,072 incidents have been mask-related. According to the FAA, 76% of passenger incidents reported during the first five months of 2021 were over masks.

At a Senate hearing December 15, 2021 Southwest Airlines CEO Gary Kelly said he thinks the mask mandate for airline passengers should be lifted. “I think the case is very strong that masks don’t add very much, if anything, in the air cabin environment,” Kelly said. “It is very safe and very high quality compared to any other indoor setting.” Keep in mind that only a year ago Gary Kelly said, “If people would wear the mask — please wear the mask — we can defeat this pandemic.”

At this same hearing American Airlines CEO Doug Parker said he agreed. “I concur,” Parker said. “An aircraft is the safest place you can be. It’s true of all of our aircraft ­— they all have the same HEPA filters and airflow.” That may be true for American Airlines aircraft but not all aircraft have HEPA filters and that doesn’t even address the airport terminal where passengers must congregate and stand shoulder to shoulder while boarding a flight. Or the point that some people are vaccinated and some are not, like children under five years old.

Right now the Transportation Security Administration’s mask mandate has been extended to March 2022.

Outspoken flight attendant union leader Sara Nelson had this to say about the mask mandate: “I believe that the government has taken a very responsible approach to this. We believe it should continue to stay in place. [It’s a] workplace safety issue,” she said at the hearing. “We do need a consistent message though. I hope we are going to stay on the same messages and follow the medical experts, and do what’s necessary to keep everybody safe.” She also concluded that it is the medical community that should make the decision about whether to mandate mask use on airline flights.

For the record, studies have shown that masks significantly decrease the chances of transmitting or contracting the coronavirus, depending upon the type of mask used. The N95 is the gold standard, experts say.

Mandating the wearing of masks only seems to incense some people and that has clearly led to an uptick in unruly passenger incidents.

Oh Demon Alcohol

The FAA has also proposed $161,823 in civil penalties against eight airline passengers for alleged unruly behavior involving alcohol. Since Jan. 1, 2021, the FAA says it has received nearly 300 reports of passenger disturbances due to alcohol and intoxication.

Federal law prohibits passengers from consuming alcohol aboard a flight that is not served by a flight attendant. Airport bars frequently offer “to-go” cups for passengers awaiting their flights but in August this year, FAA Administrator Steve Dickson sent a letter to airports requesting that they work to prevent passengers from bringing to-go cups of alcohol aboard the aircraft.

Flight attendant leader Sara Nelson also called for airports to limit passenger access to alcohol before flights, saying it sent the wrong message to push access right up to boarding and then allowing more to be carried onto the aircraft. Currently, both Southwest and American have banned alcohol sales in economy class through January 2022.

What has happened to good old decorum, being ashamed of outrageous behavior and common decency? The rate of unruly passenger incidents on commercial flights has dropped since the FAA launched its Zero Tolerance campaign but incidents continue to occur. Clearly it is not enough.

Perhaps we need to rethink booking levels and dividing the aircraft accordingly. Instead of first class and economy, let’s have partitians and extra-high fares for maskless fliers and those who want to drink onboard and place them in the back.

And for non-alcohol imbibing, mask-wearing, pleasant and kind passengers, I suggest your cheapest fare, widest seats and extra legroom.

Lead Editorial


As we close our third issue of this freshly rebranded magazine, we are taking a look back at the 20 years that have passed since 9/11 – please read Philip Baum’s comprehensive look back at the past 20 years in avsec. Since taking over from Philip earlier this year and shifting our focus from solely avsec to covering security in all modes of transport, we hit the ground running. I haven’t taken a moment to introduce myself. Let me do that now so you may understand my background.

I like to call myself an accidental editor. I came into the magazine editorial business shortly after 9/11 happened. Let me go back even further and put it all together for you.

When I was 15 and in school, I read a book about flying airplanes and became fascinated by the idea. I couldn’t stop thinking about it and wondering what it must be like to slip the surly bonds of earth, as the poem says. I told my father about my curiosity about flying. He was immediate and swift. He said to me, “If you want to learn to fly let’s go down to the local airport and look into flight lessons.” How amazing it was to get that kind of support. We headed to the local airport and I took a Cessna Discovery Flight a program that made that first flight fun and affordable.

I was hooked. I came back from that flight and told my father I definitely wanted to get my pilot’s license. I began taking regular flight lessons at that local airport. I soloed an airplane before I had my driver’s license – I had to call home to have my mom come and pick me up from the airport afterwards. I started working at the from desk of that small FBO to earn more money for flight lessons.

My flight instructor was great but worked only on the weekends and with weather and other schedule challenges, I was eager to go faster with my training. I wanted to progress and get more ratings and was thinking about flying professionally by this point. That flight instructor told me if I really wanted to pursue flying as a career, I should look at studying at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University (ERAU). It was the only university I applied to.

I pursued flying with gusto. I got my commercial ticket as well as my certified flight instructor certificates and then became a flight instructor there. I was just taking off from the airport with a student in Daytona Beach as the Challenger space shuttle lifted off one January morning. We watched in awe and then in horror as the shuttle exploded right before our eyes as it succumbed that day.

A friend from Embry-Riddle, David Charlebois, and I shared our dreams of crisscrossing the globe someday as airline pilots.

I continued to pursue flying as a career after leaving ERAU. I did all the things civilian pilots do to build time and experience to become airline pilots – I instructed, I flew a jump plane for skydive outfit, I flew charter flights, I was a night freight pilot flying car parts to keep assembly lines moving. Then I was hired by a regional airline. Along the way, I got married and had a couple of kids. I also took a two-year opportunity to live abroad with my husband in Spain when he was given a work assignment there. When I had built enough time, I acheived my airline transport pilot certificate.

I was eventually hired by a start-up airline that was modeled around an all first class service flying DC-9s with only 56 seats out of Dallas Love Field. The 56 seats was a unique way that company was able to maneuver around the Wright Amendment that limited operations from Dallas Love in hopes that the larger, newer DFW airport would thrive. In any case, being part of a start up airline was exciting and fun, if a bit of a rollercoaster ride.

Then 9/11 happened. It was a terrible time in aviation. The startup airline I worked for didn’t make it. I mentioned my college friend David earlier…he was the first officer of the American Airlines airplane that crashed into the Pentagon. He was smart, kind, funny and driven to succeed. He was one of the first of our cohort to make it to the legacy airlines. We were all so thrilled for his success. On top of the horror of the U. S. being attacked, I was shocked to learn of the loss of my friend.

Pilot hiring ground to a halt. I took some time off and then looked for another way to make a living and happened to meet the editor of an aviation publication at the 100th Anniversary of Flight that was taking place in Kitty Hawk, North Carolina in 2003. He offered me a job saying he would rather teach me how to run a magazine than to try and teach a journalism major about aviation. I am so grateful for that chance meeting. I have been doing this work ever since.

All of that to say, that for me, aviation security and security in all modes of transport, is personal. I have been in the cockpit, in the airport, on the crew bus, transferring into the city on the metro/underground/subway/train and known a friend who died at the hands of terrorists.

I see the interconnected nature of these modes of transport and what is at risk. Real people. Real lives. I feel the ripple effects of catastrophic events like 9/11. So for me, covering security events is something I am passionate about. Connecting the dots between the various transport modes is not only fascinating but essential.

Please let us know your thoughts about our coverage and what ideas you may have for stories. We would love to hear from you. I can be reached at

First Freedom of the Air
Lead Editorial

First Freedom of the Air

On 23 May, Ryanair flight 4978, traveling from Athens, Greece to Vilnius, Lithuania, was intercepted by the Belarussian Air Force and forced to land due to what they said was “a potential security threat on board,” as well as being told there was “the threat of a bomb on board.”

What choice did they have? It is a required that pilots follow the commands of any military intercept aircraft under threat of being shot down. Certainly, these rules are more seriously understood as we know the lengths that some terrorists will go to and have seen the results of using aircraft as bombs on 9/11.

Here are the rules pilots are required to follow during an interception. “Do not adjust your altitude, heading, or airspeed until directed to by the intercepting aircraft. An intercepted aircraft must, without delay:

1. Adhere to instructions relayed through the use of visual devices, visual signals, and radio communications from the intercepting aircraft.

2. Attempt to establish radio communications with the intercepting aircraft or with the appropriate ATC facility by making a general call on guard (121.5 MHz), giving the identity, position, and nature of the flight.

3. If transponder equipped, squawk 7700 unless otherwise instructed by ATC.

4. The crew of the intercepted aircraft must continue to comply with interceptor aircraft signals and instructions until positively released.

They were ordered to land in Minsk, Belarus. The Ryanair pilots had no choice but to land as they were told to do. Once on the ground the aircraft was searched but the key to all was the arrest and detention of one Ryanair passenger, Roman Protasevich (and his Russian girlfriend, Sofia Sapega).

A large movement is happening in that country and Protasevich was among those leading the movement. He organized a messaging app channel that was used to great success during the huge protests against Belarus’ president Alexander Lukashenko. It focused on opposition to the current leader, who some have called “Europe’s last dictator.” Protestors in the movement have demanded new democratic leadership and reform.

The protestors and some Western authorities have said that Lukashenko rigged the countries last election in August. Tight controls by police have kept protests under control. Some opposition leaders have been sent to prison or have gone into exile. Protasevich was living in exile. Now he is unable to leave Belarus, initially being kept in jail and now being kept under “house arrest.” Protasevich has been shown on state television expressing regret for his activities. The opposition has said he spoke under duress and showed signs of physical abuse.

Ryanair CEO Michael O’Leary called Belarus plane diversion and forced landing “state-sponsored hijacking … state-sponsored piracy.” The United States called it a “forced diversion.”

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said via Twitter shortly after it happened that the “outrageous and illegal behaviour of the regime in Belarus will have consequences,” adding those responsible “must be sanctioned.”

The International Federation of Air Line Pilots’ Associations (IFALPA) and the European Cockpit Association (ECA) released a statement saysing they “fully share the concerns expressed by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) regarding the forced landing of Ryanair Flight 4978 in Minsk, Belarus, on 23 May. Pilots are concerned that the intervention of the Belarussian Air Force was enacted for political reasons, in contravention of the Chicago Convention, and amounts to an act of unlawful interference, bearing all the hallmarks of state-sponsored hijacking.”

The groups called for an independent enquiry into the occurrence and appropriate immediate response by safety and security authorities. They said the event was an “unprecedented act of unlawful interference” that could potentially change assumptions about the safest response to bomb threats on flight and interceptions. “Without trust and reliable information from States and Air Navigation Service Providers, handling both types of events becomes much riskier to manage,” the two groups said in their statement. “Any military intervention against a civilian aircraft constitutes a wilful hazard to the safety of passengers and crew. IFALPA and ECA urge States and the International Aviation Community to investigate and take swift measures against similar occurrences,” their statement went on to say.

The U. S. Secretary of State, Antony Blinken, also made a statement condemning the action. “The United States strongly condemns the forced diversion of a flight between two EU member states and the subsequent removal and arrest of journalist Raman Pratasevich in Minsk. We demand his immediate release. This shocking act perpetrated by the Lukashenka regime endangered the lives of more than 120 passengers, including U.S. citizens. Initial reports suggesting the involvement of the Belarusian security services and the use of Belarusian military aircraft to escort the plane are deeply concerning and require full investigation.”

He went on to say that indications were that the forced landing was based on false pretenses. “We support the earliest possible meeting of the Council of the International Civil Aviation Organization to review these events.”

NATO made this statement about the occurrence: “The North Atlantic Council strongly condemns the forced diversion to Minsk, Belarus of a Ryanair flight between Athens and Vilnius on 23 May, as well as the removal from the diverted aircraft and arrest of Raman Pratasevich, a prominent Belarusian journalist travelling on board, and Sofia Sapega. This unacceptable act seriously violated the norms governing civil aviation and endangered the lives of the passengers and crew.” The statement went on to say, “We support calls for an urgent independent investigation, including by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO). We support measures taken by Allies individually and collectively in response to this incident. The detention of Mr. Pratasevich is an affront to the principles of political dissent and freedom of the press. Belarus must immediately and unconditionally release Mr. Pratasevich and Ms. Sapega. NATO Allies call on Belarus to respect fundamental human rights and freedoms, and to abide by the rules-based international order. Allies stand in solidarity with Latvia following the unjustified expulsion of Latvian diplomats.”

Was this event piracy? Hijacking? A misunderstanding? A ruse? Whatever it may be called it certainly violated the ICAO First Freedom Right. First Freedom of the Air – the right or privilege, in respect of scheduled international air services, granted by one State to another State or States to fly across its territory without landing (also known as a First Freedom Right).

Diplomacy, statements and regulation aside, after the Ryanair aircraft, crew and passengers were allowed to continue on their way, Protasevich and his girlfriend were detained. He was shown recently on television looking worn. He concluded a 90-minute interview rambling on saying, “I am cooperating absolutely fully and openly…and live an ordinary, calm life, have a family, children, stop running away from something.” After which he buried his face in his hands and cried.

Welcome to the Inaugural Issue of TSI
Lead Editorial

Welcome to the Inaugural Issue of TSI

As a longtime reader of Aviation Security Intl. you have surely seen the note from previous editor, Philip Baum, announcing his departure. I want to take this moment to acknowledge Philip’s long, stellar tenure as editor-in-chief of the former iteration of this publication and to thank him for his passion and dedication during the past two decades. Philip’s expertise in avsec is undisputed and remarkable. He is already missed and his loss is palpable. As I said to him in the transition, there is only one Philip Baum and no one can replace him.

Still, here we are, at a crossroads, with a new mission and direction. So, while I don’t imagine replacing anyone, I do look forward to forging ahead in pursuit of something new. Our new mission is coverage of security in all modes of transportation.

Of course, aviation security will still be at the forefront of our coverage and we are grateful to have the catalogue of previous issues for reference, foundation and the standard. But we are looking forward to creating a new publication with new ideas, new readers and new coverage. Although I will mention that we do have Philip Baum’s guidance going forward, at least for a while, for which we are grateful.

The interaction or cooperation of two or more organizations, substances or other agents to produce a combined effect greater than the sum of their separate effects is the definition of synergy. We believe that there is much to learn from the different sectors of transportation security and that shared knowledge begets greater understanding — synergy. So we are off in pursuit of that greater sum.

Some may say that our expanded coverage of other modes of transportation will have nothing to do with one another. I beg to disagree. There is a proverb that says, “Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their labor: If either of them falls down, one can help the other up. But pity anyone who falls and has no one to help them up.” Tech great Steve Jobs knew collaboration was key as well. He often looked to design aspects of his business that would lead to collaboration. He was a big believer in the power of accidental mingling. Creative thinking is not always meant to be a solo process.

Our concept is to share information between security professionals in all modes of transportation in an effort to help spark those collaborations and the creative flow of improvement, even if by small increments. Small changes can add up to a large impact. Ideas get better when they are fueled by other ideas. Ideas are meant to be shared and discussed; redefined and molded as blacksmiths work over a flame. All alone ideas can become stale, old. So we hope to spark that flame of creativity, of continuous improvement and of knowledge. Perhaps an avsec professional reading about changes or trends in rail security will lead to new ideas. Maybe a maritime security professional reading about ground transport security breaches will see a trend that tips them off to necessary changes in their work. This is our hope and goal. No siloes. A joint, collaborative source for transport security information.

In our first issue, we start right in with a look at the cybersecurity challenges facing the maritime shipping industry. After June 2017 NotPetya attack on Ukrainian targets that spread and hit international companies costing hundreds of millions in lost revenue and data, most shipping companies got a wake-up call about this type of breach on their IT systems. But what about operational technology (OT) environments? Our writer Andrew Reilly spoke with experts in the cybersecurity world that offer insights into what can happen with OT environments and how to protect these systems. Read that story on page 28.

Next, we take a look at how things have changed in various modes of mass transit like rail, subway and bussing. For example, attacks of bus drivers has only gotten worse over time. Our writer, James Careless says this state of affairs was bad enough before COVID-19 occurred, but since then matters have only gotten worse. Careless takes look around the globe at mass transit systems and how they are working to improve security at stations, depots and onboard. That story starts on page 36.

Kathryn Creedy examines a horrific trend in terrorism: the use of road vehicles — trucks, cars, vans — as weapons. The first vehicle ramming attack (VRA) was reported in the 1970s and have been on the rise ever since due to their accessibility and relative low-cost to fund. Creedy looks at numerous incidents and what can be learned from them as a whole, to plan and prevent them from occurring. Or if they do happen, how to minimize the damage. Throughout the piece is guidance from Homeland Security Vehicle Ramming – Action Guide. See that story on page 48.

And last, but not least, we have two pieces in our aviation security sector. The first is a look at the impact of the US elections and resulting fallout such as the January 6th Capitol breach and how these things are impacting passengers and airline security. It is written by former ASI sub-editor, Alexandra James and we are grateful to have her clear-eyed view of the struggles we face in the US. No one is immune, however, as we return to a truly global economy once the COVID crisis subsides. See her story on page 16. Our second avsec feature is a look at airport policing during the last 40 years — the changes and challenges written by Robert Raffel, a law enforcement professional with firsthand knowledge of the chinks in the armor at airports. You’ll find Raffel’s look back on page 22.

Thank you for joining us and reading this inaugural issue of TSI. We look forward to your feedback and ideas. Please reach out to me at and share your thoughts.

Lead Editorial


This is my 138th, and final, lead editorial for Aviation Security International. Every two months, aside from those issues which have been published in the immediate aftermath of an atrocity or failed plot, I have tried to conjure up something slightly provocative or a tad controversial to stimulate industry debate. So, what topic should I choose for this final column?

Philip Baum

It’s been ten months since I have been on an aircraft, or even visited an airport, and my life, like that of so many others has, despite Zoom and the online world, become somewhat more insular. Yet I have always argued that we should think outside the box.

“…2021 did not start promisingly either with more than 100 people being killed in a simultaneous attack on the villages of Tchombangou and Zaroumdareye in Niger…”

2021 starts with the coronavirus pandemic ravaging the industry, stealing innocent lives and causing lockdowns detrimental to the economy and mental health, so plenty of scope there for comment. Historical events, such as Pan Am 103, are still able to make the news headlines, as we saw this December with the recent charges being brought against Abu Agila Mohammad Masud, the alleged bomb-maker, on the 32nd anniversary of the disaster. A repeat of a 9/11-style hijacking is clearly still the objective of some as evidenced by the extradition from the Philippines to the US of an alleged al-Shabaab terrorist, Cholo Abdi Abdullah, accused of conspiring to hijack an aircraft and fly it into buildings in the US. Adequate material for a lead editorial.

Al-Shabaab’s atrocities plague the African continent and take place with alarming frequency, often escaping the western media’s attention, especially given its recent focus on COVID-19, Brexit and a US election that has made the nation the laughing stock of the civilised world. In Somalia, 2021 started in the same way that 2020 ended, with al-Shabaab mortar attacks against aviation interests. IS-sponsored terrorism, and Boko Haram actions, killed thousands of people in Africa last year – from Mozambique to Kenya and from Ethiopia to Nigeria – by suicide bombings, mass public beheadings and summary executions. And 2021 did not start promisingly either with more than 100 people being killed in a simultaneous attack on the villages of Tchombangou and Zaroumdareye in Niger on 2 January. All these groups, and their actions, warrant analysis.

We have almost become immune to actively listening to reports about the number of militants queuing up to die in their suicidal attacks in the Middle East and Africa. Just another bombing or ten. Even when aviation interests are targeted, as they were in Yemen as 2020 drew to a close, in our desperation to resume vacation and business travel, we don’t truly recognise the significance of these events. Drone attacks against Saudi airfields? Interesting, but not riveting.

“…does the security operative simply tell their team leader, who tells their supervisor, who tells the duty manager, who tells the airport manager, who may, or may not, call the police controller, who, in turn, then has to find an officer nearby able to respond? And if the subject of concern were that suicide bomber or marauding firearms terrorist…”

Likewise, the litany of unruly passenger incidents caused by selfish individuals claiming that being forced to wear a mask is an infringement of their civil liberties, insider crimes perpetrated for financial gain, airport perimeters breached by intoxicated motorists and sexually depraved acts performed by passengers, crewmembers and officials abusing their positions of power. You can read ‘Air Watch’.

No. I have elected to sign off from my editorial duties by responding to the security services’ request that, should we see something of concern we should, ‘See It. Say It. Sorted’. So, I am. Arguably my greatest concern about aviation security is that, whilst we have the staff and we have the technology, I question whether we truly have the right mindset and defined protocols to respond to the terrorist attacks, which, let’s face it, are the prime justification for our security spend.

Seemingly alien acts of violence perpetrated in climes distant from the developed world’s transportation hubs are very relevant. We didn’t respond to the threat of suicidal individuals on board aircraft after the downing of Alas Chiricanas flight 901 in Panama in 1994; we waited for 9/11. We didn’t respond to the threat of liquid explosives after the Bojinka Plot, and bombing of Philippine Airlines flight 434 (also in 1994); we waited for flights from the UK to become the target. We didn’t respond to the threat of suicidal pilots after LAM Mozambique Airlines flight 470 was intentionally crashed in Namibia by its captain in 2013; we waited for Germanwings in 2015. So, we cannot disregard the fact that suicide bombing and marauding firearms attacks are still a threat to civil aviation worldwide.

Yet how do we respond to the threat? Yes, we have great technology that can detect an ever-increasing range of dangerous explosive compounds and concealed weapons; we have certainly significantly reduced the vulnerability of aircraft being targeted once airborne. And, yes, the industry is finally starting to recognise that behaviour detection ought to be part of the screening process. But how do we respond when we do have concerns? When we ‘see it’, do we ‘say it’, and is it ‘sorted’?

I always ask my clients wishing to incorporate behavioural analysis into their security regime what they would like their staff to do if they do see something that doesn’t seem right. The answer is almost always, “Tell them to report it”! But to who? And does the reporting process simply enter an interminable chain where no individual assumes responsibility or does actually ‘sort it’? Does the security operative simply tell their team leader, who tells their supervisor, who tells the duty manager, who tells the airport manager, who may, or may not, call the police controller, who, in turn, then has to find an officer nearby able to respond? And if the subject of concern were that suicide bomber or marauding firearms terrorist, where would they be by then? Waiting patiently to be spoken to?

“…I’d have no objection to security staff being provided with krav maga, or similar, training. Even instruction in basic questioning techniques or evac/invac decision-making would be a step in the right direction…”

We are, of course, dealing with a highly unlikely scenario, but security is there to address the needle in the haystack. 9/11-style hijackers, underpants bombers, shoe bombers and acts of pilot-assisted suicide are not daily occurrences, but they exemplify exactly what we are supposed to prevent.

Every airport should have procedures specifying how security staff should respond if they do believe that they are facing an imminent attack. Of course, reporting concerns is part of that response. But there may be times when that is simply not enough.

Senior managers baulk at the idea of more prescriptive instruction. “We can’t expect them to physically engage a suspect. They would claim they are not paid enough to do that.” Or, maybe, “We can’t have staff taking unauthorised unilateral action that could result in litigation.” There will always be excuses, many of them valid, but the reality is that we are simply not training our staff to be able to make educated judgements and cannot, therefore, trust them to respond appropriately. That’s irresponsible.

Responses do not have to be physical, although I’d have no objection to security staff being provided with krav maga, or similar, training. Even instruction in basic questioning techniques or evac/invac decision-making would be a step in the right direction. Or simply reminding staff that they can call the police themselves, without entering the in-house reporting chain, if they feel the situation warrants it.

I urge readers to watch the disturbing testimony (available on YouTube) of the security staff at the Manchester Arena Inquiry into the suicidal bombing at the Ariana Grande concert in 2017. The bomber, Salman Abedi, was identified by members of the general public as being suspicious. One of them, Christopher Wild, even went to speak to Abedi and asked him what he was doing sitting, with a backpack, out of sight of everyone. Not satisfied with the response, he then reported his concerns to one of the security staff, Mohammad Agha.

Agha had already identified Abedi as being a concern however, he did not have any means to communicate with his seniors (aside from his own mobile phone) and he was reluctant to leave his position to tell anybody. Eventually Agha did manage to relate his own, and Wild’s, concerns to another member of staff, Kyle Lawler, who was walking past. Lawler and Agha discussed Abedi and even ‘joked’ about attacking him if he took out a knife. Lawler’s testimony illustrates his fear that, had he taken action and been wrong, he would have been accused of racial profiling.

“…Wild had ‘seen’ something and ‘said’ something, but Abedi remained unchallenged by security…”

Lawler did have the means to radio in his concerns to ‘control’, as per procedure, but he could not get through. Eventually he left Agha and exited the building and continued with his duties. Wild had ‘seen’ something and ‘said’ something, but Abedi remained unchallenged by security; the staff on duty had certainly not sorted it. Abedi detonated his device a few minutes later.

The inquiry also demonstrates the exceptionally scant nature of training afforded the staff and their use of a well-known video used to increase security awareness in the UK – Eyes Wide Open. In the video, the examples of concern depicted are resolved by the security staff engaging the suspects in conversation. The staff on duty at the Manchester Arena that night were neither trained to question staff nor even encouraged to engage with suspects. They were to report it. The perils of reliance on generic videos not in keeping with company procedures.

“…our frontline staff need to be capable first responders. Our screeners need to be effective decision-makers. Our guards need to be empowered and educated…”

At present, our airport checkpoints are not exactly chock-a-block with passengers, but once this pandemic is consigned to the history books, they will be. And when they are, throughput rates will, once again, become a key performance indicator. That’s all well and good but when a member of staff expresses concern about a given individual, at that moment, security – the very reason we are there – must come first.

If the person causing the concern is sufficiently suspicious, waiting for the response from other members of the team may not be the right option and unilateral action may be more appropriate. Our frontline staff need to be capable first responders. Our screeners need to be effective decision-makers. Our guards need to be empowered and educated to help prevent the atrocities we see taking place around the world occurring at an airport near you.

I’ve said it. Not sure I’ve sorted it. That’s down to you as, sadly, all I have done is report it one final time.

Lead Editorial


The year 2020 has been defined by the coronavirus pandemic. Sadly, even if a vaccine emerges in the next few months, in all likelihood 2021 will also be blighted by COVID-19. This will either be – and this would be the best-case scenario – just down to the economic impact of damage caused to the industry to date, or, and arguably more realistically, if the virus cannot be supressed to the point where normal air transport operations can resume, as a result of a worsening situation with an ongoing decline in demand for seats.

Philip Baum

Much has been written about how we can make aviation safe and many claims have been made regarding innovative measures introduced by airlines and airports to better protect passengers and staff alike. Yet, whether or not we start to see a global decline in infection rates, there are some serious security challenges resulting from the pandemic that we have to address.
These are six areas that concern me the most:

1. Mental Ill Health & Passenger Angst

We will be reading academic papers and the results of medical research relating to the 2020 pandemic for many years, if not decades, to come. The negative toll on the mental health of swathes of mankind is going to influence every aspect of our lives. Social distancing, long periods of isolation, ill health (COVID, long-COVID or non-COVID related), loss of income, changes in family dynamics, excessive online activity and loss of traditional cultural stimuli derived from the arts are just a few factors, which will impact employee performance as and when they return to the workplace. Passengers, a significant percentage of whom already have a latent fear of flying, will be returning to the skies, but to a different flying experience where, for now, they are perceived by crew and fellow passengers as being potential virus transmitters. Add to that the new set of rules we are required to follow, such as mask wearing, early arrival at airports and following defined routes through terminals, and one can understand why, for some people, flying may be a necessity but may also cause additional angst; this, in turn, will impact passenger behaviour.

2. Insider Threats

In many parts of the world, the number of people employed by the aviation industry, and in services peripheral to it, has declined dramatically. Many long-standing employees have been laid off or put on government-backed furlough schemes. It is usually standard practice for employers to recover ID cards and keys and to change passwords to computer networks when staff leave. However, the sheer number of people being made redundant has made standard practice difficult to perform. It is also not deemed a necessity for furloughed staff, who may be earning a fraction of their already minimum wage salaries with the same rent and bills to pay. Meanwhile, with many of those losing their jobs feeling resentful towards their former employers or those maintaining their roles earning less as a result of furlough schemes or lack of overtime opportunities, we can see the potential for insider criminal activity to flourish. Financial gain is, after all, the prime motivating factor for insider crime.

3. Stand-off Detection & Masks

One would hope that the way in which we screen passengers will be at least as robust post-pandemic as it was pre-pandemic. Yet already we can see calls for a more hands-off approach to screening operations – and for very understandable reasons. Clearly screeners will be concerned about close contact with passengers, especially when they are, as we hope, once again streaming through the checkpoints. Yet the checkpoint has its limitations. Sure, we can resolve alarms, but for years we have been arguing that communication with passengers is advantageous from a screening perspective, especially if we are aiming to detect a host of criminal activities that do not involve infiltrating explosive devices onto aircraft. And then there are the masks – and remember some states have tried to limit certain religious groups from covering their faces citing security reasons – which not only negatively impact our ability to utilise facial recognition biometric systems, but also make the detection of expressions of stress far more difficult, whilst also providing an additional cause for beads of sweat to appear on a passenger’s forehead.

“…excessive online activity and loss of traditional cultural stimuli derived from the arts are just a few factors, which will impact employee performance as and when they return to the workplace…”

4. Radicalisation

For months now, there has been little mainstream news coverage of many issues which would, and should, normally be taking centre stage. US election and the scant attention being paid to Brexit deliberations and climate change aside, it’s all about coronavirus. Meanwhile poverty, famine and civil wars rage and, for many, the sense of injustice flourishes. In the developed world, youths and young adults find themselves increasingly alienated, as the job market diminishes and society becomes more insular. Hidden away from sight at home, the online world can tempt the more vulnerable members of society to embrace extremist ideologies. With an absence of crowded places and few aircraft taking to the skies, patience is the game. The security services have already made it known that they are concerned about the increased chatter indicating the potential of attacks just as soon as the economy starts to regain its feet. With the aviation industry already suffering, just because the media narrative is all about health, we simply cannot afford to be complacent about security.

“…many of those losing their jobs feeling resentful towards their former employers or those maintaining their roles earning less as a result of furlough schemes or lack of overtime opportunities…”

5. Finance

We cannot afford to be complacent, but equally we cannot necessarily afford the high cost of security countermeasures. We normally turn to government, but so will everybody else. From social services to the arts, the education sector to the charities we have come to rely on, budgets are being slashed as governments bail out those companies they can and support employees in an unprecedented manner. We see constant cries for additional injections of finance to help industries such as hospitality and transportation survive the crisis, but the money has to come from somewhere. Long-term that might mean increased taxation, be it on income, inheritance or capital gains, but in the short-term we are going to have to make some really tough decisions as to whether we tolerate increased exposure to risk. Security directors are going to be forced to make do with less when they already needed more. Achieving the right balance will depend upon ensuring that security departments ensure that their financiers are kept fully abreast of the security threats we continue to face.

6. Training

Security often comes well down the pecking order for additional investment when times are hard. Yet training, and especially security training, can be relegated to the bottom of the list. Training not only maintains established skillsets, but it also serves to identify potential insider disharmony (especially in classroom courses) and enables us to keep our focus on the target. Many courses will be coronavirus-related, but the virus is a health problem and not, in itself, a security threat. If the training becomes fixated on preventing virus transmission then screener focus will also drift towards identifying those passengers and staff who may be showing signs of infection rather than those with negative intent. With passengers masked, and social distancing the norm, and in the knowledge that there are greater numbers of radicalised individuals accessing our airports, we have to find a way to up our game.

“…security directors are going to be forced to make do with less when they already needed more…”

Overall, we can – and must – remain positive. In 2021, it is highly likely a vaccine will be discovered. Innovative technologies are emerging to assist our endeavours. There is an incredible amount of goodwill and understanding that can be leveraged in the workplace. The post-pandemic opportunities will be both exciting and lucrative. Aviation will serve as a remedy to many of the woes we may be experiencing. We just need to avoid applying plasters that might stem the financial bleed of 2020 without addressing security cancers which, if left unaddressed, could be terminal…and not the airport kind!

Lead Editorial


This September marks the 50th anniversary of the multiple hijacking of aircraft to Dawson’s Field in Jordan by the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP). The atrocity provided one of the most iconic and renowned images from aviation security history, the PFLP having ensured the world’s media were on hand to record the simultaneous destruction of the TWA, Swissair and BOAC aircraft on, what they called, their ‘Revolutionary Airstrip’.

Philip Baum

As Jonathan Zimmerli points out in his more detailed analysis of the incident in this issue of Aviation Security International (ASI), one of the reasons behind the successful hijacking of these three aircraft, and a Pan Am aircraft that was flown to Cairo, can be attributed to airlines’ “strong resistance towards extended and upgraded security controls” which had been recommended. The Israeli airline, El Al, had adopted a more stringent security stance and, as a result, the hijackers were unsuccessful in their attempt to seize their flight from Amsterdam to New York that same day.

The industry has long been branded ‘reactive’ and resistant to bringing in proactive measures to counter known vulnerabilities. Rather than assessing risk based on intelligence analysis, the bean counters often opt to determine the appropriate response to a given threat based on post-disaster media imagery – of the aircraft at Dawson’s Field, of Captain John Testrake with a gun against his head on TWA flight 847, of the wreckage of Pan Am Flight 103 at Lockerbie, and of aircraft flying into the World Trade Center. Only with such photographic ‘proof’ of threat will they embrace meaningful change, in part because they need the general public’s buy-in prior to enhancing security measures. The problem with the reliance on disaster footage to ‘sell’ the need for security is that, by definition, a tragedy has had to have occurred; unsuccessful plots do not generate emotionally powerful visual statements. This can be a frustration for airlines’ security management teams keen to better mitigate threats and vulnerabilities they know exist.

“…the bean counters often opt to determine the appropriate response to a given threat based on post-disaster media imagery – of the aircraft at Dawson’s Field, of Captain John Testrake with a gun against his head on TWA flight 847, of the wreckage of Pan Am Flight 103 at Lockerbie, and of aircraft flying into the World Trade Center…”

Even then, as the years pass after an attack, there is often a desire to water down the more stringent changes initially recommended. Following the Lockerbie bombing in 1988, the US Presidential Commission on Aviation Security and Terrorism found the system to be “seriously flawed” and in need of “major reform”. The airlines, however, were resistant to many of the recommendations, citing cost. They then embarked on lobbying campaigns which cost eyewatering sums of money, many of which were opposing security measures. After the loss of TWA Flight 800 in 1996 (allegedly due to a spark in the fuel tank), the Gore Commission was established, also with a remit to look at aviation security. Many of their findings replicated those of the previous commission.

But lessons were not learned. According to Andrew Thomas, in his book Aviation Insecurity, “of the fifty recommendations made by the [Gore] Commission, nearly all were eventually watered down, delayed or simply never considered by the FAA”. Thomas provides an excellent example of this: “The Gore Commission recommended several ways that the performance of airport screening companies could be improved, including establishing a national job grade structure for screeners”, as well as, “not hiring screening companies on the sole basis of being the lowest bidder.” Thomas highlights that the FAA response, “was to maintain the current system of allowing cost, not performance, to be the final determinant as to which screening company would be used by the airlines.” Similarly shocking, finance-based objections were cited in opposition to recommendations relating to employee background checks.

And then came 9/11…and another commission. Aside from the human tragedy, and the sudden global realisation as to the depths certain elements of society could sink, the attacks once again served to demonstrate, as the 9/11 Commission points out, “the 9/11 attacks revealed four kinds of failures: in imagination, policy, capabilities, and management.” On a single day, as in 1970, attempts had been made to hijack four aircraft. Despite all the evidence that suicidal terrorism was in existence prior to 11th September 2001, and that aviation was an intended target, scant attention had been directed towards America’s woeful domestic aviation security capability.

Eight years on, and in the aftermath of the attempted destruction of a Northwest Airlines flight from Amsterdam to Detroit by the ‘Underpants Bomber’, Umar Farouk Abdulmuttalab, in 2009, we found that many of the 9/11 Commission’s recommendations had either been abandoned or were still a work in progress. And, in terms of risk assessment, President Obama himself famously stated that, despite the prevalence of a multitude of suspicious signs, we had “failed to connect those dots.” It was, he said, “not a failure to collect intelligence; it was a failure to integrate and understand the intelligence that we already had.”

“…we must not fail to connect the dots. We cannot work in silos. We need to ensure that future generations do not accuse us of having a failure of imagination…”

Readers would be justified in accusing me of exclusively focusing on the US response to attacks. The problem is that the global aviation community only changes when America does, and America only acts when its interests are demonstrably targeted. Where, for example, was the global response to the meatgrinder plot against an Etihad flight out of Sydney in 2017? Where was the industry-wide change in flight deck security protocols in the aftermath of the Germanwings disaster caused by suicidal pilot, Andreas Lubitz, in 2015? How often have attacks against aviation interests in China or Russia led to global change? Yes, from time to time some countries introduce new countermeasures, but we only witness wholesale revamping of our security protocols if the US says so. Why, for example, are powders (and associated powders, liquids, aerosols and gels – ‘PLAGs’ – restrictions) only regional? Given its history of being reactive, maybe it is high time for others to call the shots and the US be forced to comply?

“…it is abundantly clear that this is one area where we should not be following America’s lead as their pandemic management has been a case study in malpractice rather than best practice…”

And here we are today, in 2020, living in uncertain times, with the global economy in freefall, job losses stacking up, companies going to the wall and, worst of all, people dying in their hundreds of thousands. Coronavirus. It’s not a security threat, but its impact on the aviation industry dwarfs that of 9/11. Yet, whilst it may not be a security challenge, we do need to learn the security lessons of the past. And it is abundantly clear that this is one area where we should not be following America’s lead as their pandemic management has been a case study in malpractice rather than best practice.

We cannot allow ourselves to be driven by the bean counters, however worthy their attempts may be to save jobs, or even airlines themselves, in the short term. We must not fail to connect the dots. We cannot work in silos. We need to ensure that future generations do not accuse us of having a failure of imagination.

My own business is completely dependent on the prosperity of the aviation industry and, as such, we have been knocked for six by the impact of the pandemic. As specialists in behavioural analysis for the enhancement of security for the transport industry and in other crowded places, such as tourist attractions, sports stadia and beaches, there is little surprise that we are not being inundated with orders for classroom training courses. There are no crowded places! Yet, despite my wanting to see aircraft filled to capacity and beaches heaving with sun worshippers, I’m actually opposed to the resumption of charter flights to resorts and feel that those who book them are behaving selfishly. But, if governments sanction them – and they are due to the lobbying efforts going on behind the scenes – people will go.

Airlines themselves may be able to create relatively safe environments for their passengers, but they are also facilitating the spread of a virus; not intentionally, but by the very nature of their operations. States that have managed to reduce infection rates have done so by trying to limit travel, even between suburbs, let alone between countries, to an absolute minimum. Many of us live in ‘bubbles’ where there is no indication of the virus spreading, but we are also seeing that, as lockdowns ease, virus transmission is increasing. Within our own communities, the virus is manageable, but as soon as we allow, or even encourage, cross-mingling we lose such control.

So, yes, airlines are to be applauded for their efforts to ensure a sanitised environment for us to be transported in, but they only provide the vehicle, not the complete experience. Passengers still have to move through airports and, as we see from social media output, many of the smaller airports simply cannot ensure social distancing; nor can the ground transportation networks, and nor can many of the resorts themselves. By definition, we go on vacation in order to get away from our normal lives and home environment. We meet new people. We burst the bubble.

Whilst I empathise with the plight of the airlines, hotels and other facets of the tourist economy – and of course their staff – we do not exist in a silo. The longer the pandemic has a grip on society, the longer the economic impact. Smaller businesses cannot survive the yo-yo impact of lockdown-easement-lockdown-easement and all the uncertainty that goes along with that approach. Some airlines may indeed collapse as a result of a more prolonged, yet effective, lockdown, but if we look at the big picture more jobs, and more lives, will be saved.

We are keen – no, desperate – for a return to normality but we cannot pretend that international travel is as safe as we are claiming. Flights need to operate, but for necessary reasons. Not vacations. Travellers who can’t resist the overseas beach have only themselves to blame if quarantine measures are introduced should pandemic infection rates demand a change in regulation. And insurers should certainly not have to pay out for interrupted vacation plans – disruption was predictable and there is no reason why future premiums should be further inflated by the actions of irresponsible travellers.

From a British perspective, I am fed up with politicians applauding the British public for their efforts and relying on their common sense rather than on an effective enforcement regime. What common sense? And, in the UK, what enforcement regime? I see little sign of either. I’ve just nipped out to a local shop to buy my lunchtime meal deal – five other customers in the store and only one with a face mask, despite it being the law to do so! And not a single person I know who has travelled has been checked on during their mandatory quarantine period. Many colleagues overseas can attest to far more frequent and vigorous controls being in place. If we are going to have rules, let’s make sure they are effective – if we don’t, the law-abiding citizens will suffer, along with the economy as a whole, whilst the selfish will party at everyone else’s expense.

I have long advocated for common-sense security – making intelligent decisions based on the circumstances one faces. Yet, there has been so much about the management of this pandemic that had defied logic. In the UK, that started with – as the Home Affairs Select Committee confirmed as this issue of ASI was going to press – the delayed introduction of quarantine measures in the early days of the pandemic when we could see the virus was accelerating. We can see now that the trend is going in the wrong direction, yet we continue to ease the lockdown. That might be essential locally for people’s mental health, but not to the point of encouraging people to enter the melting pot of humanity that exists at airports and on board international flights.

“…with all our loved ones lives at stake, perhaps the best lesson the past has taught us is that risk management is about taking decisions that may not be commercially welcome in the short-term, but preserve lives in the long-term…

There are a multitude of reasons why people do need to fly and I have no wish to see states become prisons with no means of escape. Our citizens do need to travel to see relatives and loved ones overseas, especially if they are elderly or frail; they may have to participate in business meetings which cannot be achieved via Zoom yet which are essential to the viability of their company going forward; and, some may even be fortunate enough to have second homes which need tending to (and where social distancing is as easy as at home). But the traditional city break, or overseas or inter-state beach vacation is not essential travel in 2020. And nor is any mass gathering event that brings together people from different communities, be it a sports tournament, music festival, trade show, protest, carnival or parade.

Yes, I’m frustrated. Yes, our business is suffering. Yes, it’s hard to see the light at the end of the tunnel. But yes, I have had COVID-19 and it is not a pleasant experience and, consequently, yes I believe that those fortunate enough to be able to afford an overseas holiday this year ought to be ‘staycationers’ and holiday at home. For those readers in the UK, we have an abundance of historic sites, golden beaches, visitor attractions and beauty spots. A new one I’ve only recently heard of is a place called Barnard Castle!

Business is about money, but throughout history many lives have been lost due to putting finance above safety and security. Blinkered, protectionist viewpoints may save jobs within a certain sector, but with all our loved ones’ lives at stake, perhaps the best lesson the past has taught us is that risk management is about taking decisions that may not be commercially welcome in the short-term, but preserve lives in the long-term. The powerful imagery associated with the current pandemic – of PPE-wearing nurses caring for those struggling to breath in intensive care units, of mass funerals, and of deserted city centres – may not specifically relate to aviation, but if we fail to recognise that strict physical distancing is a necessity today, the impact on airlines, airports and the travel industry will be all the more bleak for the future.

“…the traditional city break, or overseas or inter-state beach vacation is not essential travel in 2020. And nor is any mass gathering event that brings together people from different communities, be it a sports tournament, music festival, trade show, protest, carnival or parade…”

Lead Editorial

Hypocrisy Avoidance & Effective Messaging: Key Factors to Mitigating the Threat of a Post-Coronavirus Surge in Unruly Passenger Incidents by Philip Baum

International readers may not be familiar with the name Dominic Cummings. Those of you in the UK would have had to be living in isolation not to know who he is (oh, sorry, I forgot that is what we are all supposed to have been doing)!

Philip Baum

Cummings is the Prime Minister’s muse. Without Cummings, it would appear, Boris Johnson is lost. The architect of the Brexit Vote Leave offensive, the fixer of Johnson’s crusade to become leader of the Conservative Party and the draughtsman of the Conservatives subsequent successful election campaign, he has an impressive ability to read the mood of the electorate and win. He is despised by the opposition parties and indeed by many of those in government, in part because he appears untouchable, unaccountable and now, so it seems, above the law.

Whilst the country, and world as a whole, were struggling to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic, and the need to comply with governmental guidelines critical to protecting lives, the news headlines in the UK towards the end of May were diverted to address a political storm. Yes, the backdrop was the coronavirus, but at its heart was the dilemma as to when, and by whom, regulations established to save lives can be broken…and what the consequences of such actions are.

To summarise: Living in London, Cummings’ wife started displaying signs that she might have coronavirus in late March, around the same time that Boris Johnson contracted the virus. With a four-year-old child to worry about, Cummings decided to drive 260 miles north to Durham in order that, should he become ill himself, his extended family would be on hand to support the care of their son. Allegedly they all isolated in a cottage, had food delivered to them and managed to socially distance. The problem, however, was that the Prime Minister’s chief advisor had, in effect, breached the government’s abundantly clear instructions that, given the national emergency, we should only leave our homes for a very specific list of necessities and that, if one had symptoms of the virus, one should isolate for 7-days and those living in the same household should remain in quarantine for 14-days. ‘Stay Home. Protect the NHS. Save Lives’ was the message.

“…the constant stream of tweets of aircraft where it is abundantly clear social distancing is not happening…”

Cummings, however, decided that this was not doable in London and, despite the fact that the vast majority of the population were struggling with being distanced from loved ones, he opted to drive the length of the country (allegedly, despite having a four-year old in the car, they did not stop en route, and nor has any explanation been given as to what they would have done had they needed to stop). It is true that one could leave home to protect a child, but this trip was clearly not in the spirit of the government’s message and the secrecy surrounding the trip makes it abundantly clear that the family, and Downing Street, also knew that this was problematic.

We might be inclined to give them the benefit of the doubt. Cummings did indeed develop symptoms consistent with coronavirus and the family did self-isolate. Yet on 12 April, after their quarantine period had ended, they took a road trip to the historic town of Barnard Castle. It happened to be Cumming’s wife’s birthday! The 30-mile trip was allegedly to enable Cummings to evaluate whether his eyesight was good enough to drive back to London the next day. Yes, he drove to a beauty spot with a four-year old in the car to see whether it was safe to drive! The height of irresponsibility if it were true, the epitome of arrogance if it were for pleasure. The family were seen in Barnard Castle and the media bruhaha ensued, prompting Cummings being afforded the abhorrent opportunity to have his own press conference in the Rose Garden at 10 Downing Street. Cummings refused to resign and Johnson has, so far, refused to sack him. Even if it were all true, Cummings should at least have had the decency to recognise that his personal situation was having a negative impact on the government’s core message to continue to stay at home and socially distance.

The general public, meanwhile, are now left questioning the importance of the government’s messaging. Indeed, they are angry. Repulsive scenes of Cummings’ home being besieged by hypocritical journalists and photographers, clearly not socially distancing, and vocal members of the general public who had total disregard for Cummings’ neighbours, let alone the impact their abusive comments might have on Cummings’ young son, were broadcast and made for disturbing viewing.

So, what, you might well ask, has this all got to do with aviation security? For me the lessons are abundantly clear. As the industry strives to recover from the economic tsunami, and put in place measures to protect the passengers and crew who, we hope, will return to the skies, the messaging we utilise must be based on common sense and reflect reality. Should we fail to do so, not only will we once again facilitate the spread of the virus (and, yes, whether we like it or not, aviation unwittingly played a key role in enabling the pandemic), but we will also have to respond to a surge in unruly passenger incidents.

We are already seeing the constant stream of tweets of aircraft where it is abundantly clear social distancing is not happening. Yet if one looks at the press releases emanating from the media relations departments of airlines and airports, the impression given is that the industry is really going to offer a safe environment for international travel.

In our minds, we all have to juggle the health risk vs economic recovery dilemma – it’s nigh on impossible to prioritise both, so a balance has to be achieved. We’d love to kill off all opportunity for the virus to spread and truly lock down, but we know that even more lives will probably be lost if the economic repercussions are too cataclysmic.

Honesty is the best policy. We need to get people back in the skies, but our messaging should not attempt to disguise the risks. We must be clear about our countermeasures, and adopt a zero tolerance stance for those who wish to flout them, be they passengers, crew or other industry employees.

There are a number of facts that the aviation industry has to accept. First, coronavirus is going to be around for some considerable time. Second, performing temperature checks on passengers at the boarding gate does not mean that they are not carrying the virus – the symptoms may not yet have started to show or the passenger may have taken medication to reduce their fever just before the fever scan is performed. Third, we must be realistic that we might be able to socially distance on board aircraft, subject to seat configuration but, in the busier hubs, it is not feasible to maintain a two-metre distance from all people at all times in the airport. That is not a reason not to fly, but it is justification for transparency. After all, even a trip to the supermarket carries an inherent risk – and I have yet to make one trip to the shops and witness genuine social distancing throughout the shopping process.

“…performing temperature checks on passengers at the boarding gate does not mean that they are not carrying the virus…”

The post-coronavirus flying experience concerns me from three security perspectives. First, as I wrote in my lead editorial in the last issue, security screeners will be tasked to perform health checks, thereby diverting their attention from the very real, and current, terrorist threats the industry faces. Second, socially distanced protocols at checkpoints are further diluting the responsibility of the human being in the detection of threats and fuelling the ill-judged drive towards completely automating the screening process. The inability to see passengers’ expressions behind COVID-19 masks, the likely reduction in close-up pat down searches and a greater reluctance to search belongings by hand could have grave consequences. But don’t underestimate the third challenge – unruly passengers.

Acts of unruly behaviour in the aircraft cabin have been increasingly challenging aircrew. The rationale behind each incident is different and intoxication is far from being the only cause. Fear and frustration also have a significant impact on a passenger’s mood, and these can be exacerbated by mixed messages. Reassuring passengers that we are offering them a safe travel environment and then seating them closer to a stranger than they have been with their own family and friends during lockdown is going to result in angry outbursts. Crewmembers, or any airline or airport employee, that are not seen to be socially distancing whilst we ask passengers to don masks and request permission to use the lavatories will grate.

“…fear and frustration also have a significant impact on a passenger’s mood, and these can be exacerbated by mixed messages…”

What we witnessed outside the home of Dominic Cummings could take place on board aircraft, with no police on hand to diffuse the situation. All the more reason for us to practice what we preach and not adopt a ‘do as I say, not do as I do’ attitude. There is much about our approach to aviation security that does not appear to be based on common sense, but with everybody listening for months now to the messages regarding how to remain safe in the coronavirus era, it is of absolutely fundamental importance that the aviation industry recovers economically whilst also being an exemplar of safety best practice – something the industry has long been lauded for and cannot now afford to denigrate.

Lead Editorial


It’s hard to believe that just a few months ago we were assessing the shootdown of Ukraine International Airlines flight PS752 following its departure from Teheran, and the responsibility borne by the Iranian regime for the military error, which claimed 176 innocent lives. That was 8 January 2020.

Only a week earlier, on New Year’s Eve, China had reported a cluster of cases of pneumonia in Wuhan, resulting in the identification of a novel coronavirus. Within hours, the World Health Organisation (W.H.O.) had established its Incident Management Support Team (IMST) and had placed the organisation on an emergency footing for dealing with the outbreak. By 10 January, the W.H.O. had issued a comprehensive package of technical guidance online with advice to all countries on how to detect, test and manage potential cases, based on what was known about the virus at the time. And, on 12 January, less than two weeks after sounding the alarm, China publicly shared the genetic sequence for what we now refer to as COVID-19. A day later, a case of COVID-19 was recorded in Thailand, the first recorded case outside of China. And so began what has since become an international pandemic…

Philip Baum

At the time of writing, there have been more than 1.6 million cases of coronavirus diagnosed, resulting in more than 111,000 deaths. Who knows where we will be in a few months’ time? That’s already a significant number of people whose lives have been physically disrupted, or ended prematurely, as a result of a virus whose source is not even really known. We believe that the virus, originally carried by bats, somehow infected other creatures – quite possibly the pangolin, regarded as one of the world’s most illegally traded mammals and whose meat is considered a delicacy in China. As a result of the uncontrolled sale of such live animals in Chinese markets, the virus made the transition to human beings.

“…those with a proclivity to pick up arms and go on the attack will only see the economic turmoil we are experiencing as something to further exploit…”

The publicised figures mask the true scale of the epidemic with millions of people not even making it onto the statistics board. I, for one, have clearly been a victim of coronavirus, having spent two weeks with a fever – coughing, hallucinating and, at times, catastrophising – yet, because my breathing was fortunately not seriously impaired, I have not formally been tested. So, from a statistical perspective, I do not exist!

In terms of economic impact, it’s far too early to determine the number of jobs lost, businesses closed and investments placed on short-term or permanent hold. Aviation is clearly one sector that is going to suffer for years to come. My fear is that when recovery does commence, security and training will both be areas sacrificed by the bean counters. And yet that would be so short-sighted.

Obviously, we will have to prioritise, but in doing so we must avoid falling into the hidden trap the virus has created. We must ensure that the airport security checkpoints remain focused on the task of identifying those with negative intent. It is not the role of screeners to identify those who may be showing signs of illness; coronavirus must not be allowed to become the next powder, liquid, aerosol or gel. In other words, there is serious danger in allowing our security screening personnel to become distracted by prevailing health concerns. The gravitas of the security implications of the coronavirus rests in the way in which we address – or fail to address – the loopholes that can be exploited by those who wish to target aviation for criminal or terroristic gain.

“…groups, such as ISIS, are likely to want to seize the opportunity such wayward thinking presents. As security teams are asked to fulfil non-security functions – and this is especially true for military personnel – there will be gaps created in our traditional defences…”

Groups, such as ISIS, are likely to want to seize the opportunity such wayward thinking presents. As security teams are asked to fulfil non-security functions – and this is especially true for military personnel – there will be gaps created in our traditional defences. Redeployed personnel, operating in unfamiliar roles and environments, concentrating their efforts on tasks they have not been trained for could be excused for taking their eye off the ball… but those who manage them have no excuse. With society already paralysed, it is incumbent upon the industry to think like our adversaries and recognise that, as much as we all look forward to the industry’s revival, traditional threats will remain.

Those with extreme political agendas will not feel sorry for the industry because it is suffering; those with a proclivity to pick up arms and go on the attack will only see the economic turmoil we are experiencing as something to further exploit; and some of those who we might have hoped would have been grateful for early release from prisons will be secretly savouring the fresh opportunities they have been presented with to participate in acts of hate-filled crime.

The economic chaos in which we find ourselves will be perceived as ‘deserved’. Worse still, the zealots will claim that it is divine intervention, further empowering brainwashed foot soldiers to embark upon missions to sacrifice themselves. As society struggles with its new normal – how to queue up for and visit a supermarket, how to take exercise, how to utilise public transport, or how to visit a doctor’s surgery – imagine the impact of a terrorist attack on one of our cities and the added fear created by having to respond in a time of social distancing.

Overall, throughout these early days of the pandemic we have witnessed the best in human nature, as communities rally together and neighbours support those most in need. We have seen, in the main, cross-party political cooperation and sense of purpose. There’s no such thing as good timing for a pandemic – and certainly from a Western perspective one could argue that, with the UK & EU only weeks into their Brexit separation and the United States being led by a Commander-in-Chief who is broadly regarded as being the laughing stock of the rest of the world, there’s every reason to claim that these are the worst of times – yet there are reasons to be grateful.

From a health perspective, the vaccine, whenever it appears, is likely to be the fastest developed antidote to future infections ever created. Our means of communication are enabling business and social interaction to flourish. The concept of Zoom meetings, let alone WhatsApp groups, were an anathema to most a decade ago. Social media platforms have shown their strengths – and their weaknesses. Whilst many have taken to Twitter to express themselves positively, I have been disgusted by the tens of thousands of people who feel it is appropriate to denigrate. This was exemplified following the hospitalisation of British Prime Minister Boris Johnson with COVID-19. Love him or loathe him, most people, including opposition leaders of all parties, realised that this was a time to set aside politics and to do nothing more than wish a fellow human-being – who just happened to be leading the British fight against the virus – a speedy recovery. Yet there were all too many voices revelling in Johnson’s misfortune and even wishing him ill, joyous that he was at death’s door. It would be easy to argue that these sick individuals have nothing to do with aviation security, but I beg to differ. Aviation continues to face the traditional organised terrorist threats, but it also has to counter the actions of a multitude of loose cannons who either espouse xenophobic ideologies, ply their trade in self-adulation at the expense of the majority of law-abiding passengers, or who are convinced that life seems to be nothing more than one big conspiracy theory – and they are the saviour.

In terms of pandemic planning, we have generally been caught wanting. No airport should have struggled to equip its staff with personal protective equipment. We may not have been expecting COVID-19, but we certainly ought to have been prepared to manage a chemical or biological weapons incident. Yes, the reality of responding to a crisis should promote a reassessment of emergency response plans, but there were far too many entities actually drafting their initial pandemic response plans in February of this year – that’s nothing short of embarrassing. And, most importantly, how many airlines and airports are going to get to the end of the crisis and still argue that they have insufficient time to dedicate to training?

“…there were far too many entities actually drafting their initial pandemic response plans in February of this year – that’s nothing short of embarrassing…”

Security managers often bemoan the fact that they cannot carry out the exercises they want; as an example, practising the response to a marauding firearms attacker carrying out an action within the airport terminal. They are always told that exercises have to be table-top in nature because no terminal can be closed down due to the disruption such exercises might cause. Now, of course, the excuse is the need to maintain social distancing. The question is whether we are always going to cite excuses for our inaction – no budget, no time, no space, no threat – or whether we, as security professionals, are going to treat COVID-19 as an opportunity, rather than solely as a costly pandemic?

For almost 20 years, articles and conference papers have all too frequently started with the words, “Ever since the tragic events of 9/11”. We use the date as justification for new ways of thinking; however, our declarations that ‘the world changed that day’ simply serve to emphasise how exceptionally poor our risk management had been up to this point. Should we really have been so surprised by 9/11 – and should there have been such a monumental change in attitude – when the security services had been warning of us of this type of attack for many years beforehand?

“…the question is whether we are going to always cite excuses for our inaction – no budget, no time, no space, no threat – or whether we, as security professionals, are going to treat COVID-19 as an opportunity…”

COVID-19 is now going to be our new milestone. But do we want 2020 to be cited as an excuse for lack of progress or as an amazing opportunity to truly develop and test out a more robust security system? Your call.

Lead Editorial


On 8 January 2020, Ukraine International Airlines flight PS752 was cleared for take-off from Tehran’s Imam Khomeini International Airport for its scheduled flight to Kiev. It departed at 06:12, almost an hour behind schedule, but it was never to reach its intended destination. The lives of 167 passengers and 9 crew members were to be extinguished when the Armed Forces of the Islamic Republic of Iran fired missiles “due to human error” towards the aircraft, allegedly believing it to be an incoming US cruise missile.

This was the latest military mistake to have catastrophic consequences for the aviation industry and, whilst air safety records are generally improving year on year, incompetence by armed forces has now become one of the greatest hazards for commercial aviation. And the main protagonists in the loss of PS752 will be only too aware of that. Ukraine, despite its good safety record, is, sadly, almost synonymous with the loss of aircraft due to military errors – since the turn of the century, it has been violator, venue and, now, victim.

Philip Baum

On 4 October 2001, less than a month after the attacks of 11 September – hence a period of high tension with the aviation community – it was the Ukrainian Air Force that accidentally shot down Siberia Airlines flight 1812 whilst it was en route from Tel Aviv to Novosibirsk. According to a report by Professor Jacek Gieras, the “Ukraine defence forces were doing an exercise near the coastal city of Theodosia in the Crimea region. Missiles were fired from an S-200V missile battery. A 5V28 missile missed the drone and exploded some 15m above the Tu-154M. The aircraft sustained serious damage, resulting in a decompression of the passenger cabin.” The aircraft plunged into the Black Sea, claiming all 78 souls on board.

“…it was the Ukrainian Air Force that accidentally shot down Siberia Airlines flight 1812 whilst it was en route from Tel Aviv to Novosibirsk…”

More well-known of course is the destruction of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 on 17 July 2014. The B777 was en route from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur when, in Ukrainian airspace, it was shot down by a Buk missile. A Joint Investigation Team (JIT), comprising officials from the Dutch Public Prosecution Service and the Dutch police, along with police and criminal justice authorities from Malaysia, Ukraine, Australia and Belgium, was formed to conduct the subsequent criminal investigation. The JIT established that the Buk missile installation that brought down the flight belonged to the Russian army; a trial is set to commence this March, albeit with the three Russians and one Ukrainian accused being tried in absentia.

Iran also has experience of a military error, which had catastrophic consequences for civil aviation. An Iranian aircraft was the target of a missile strike back in 1988 when the USS Vincennes shot down Iran Air flight 655 en route from Bandar Abbas to Dubai, allegedly mistaking the Airbus for a fighter jet. In the aftermath of the subsequent bombing of Pan Am flight 103 over Lockerbie in December 1988, those who argue that Iran was responsible for the bombing (and who, to this day, question any Libyan involvement) moot that it could well have been a retaliatory act sponsored by Iran against the US for the destruction of flight 655.

Save for establishing the facts, and holding those responsible accountable for their actions, achieving ‘justice’ for the victims of such incidents is of questionable value. Compensation is normally paid to the families of victims, but how much is a human life worth? $200,000? It took until 1996 for the Americans to pay out over $60 million, or just over $213,000 per passenger, to the families of flight 655’s victims, but they never admitted any legal liability. In a similar vein, Ukraine ended up paying $200,000 to the families of each of the Israeli and Russian victims of flight 1812, yet the Ukrainians also stated that the settlements were made “as a humane action, not the admission of guilt”.

So, yes, the families of the victims of flight PS752 will receive ‘compensation’, but perhaps an even greater gift would be ensuring that the industry, and governments, take steps to prevent such tragedies ever happening again.

Let’s be clear, Iran bears 100% responsibility for the loss. There may have been ‘circumstances’, and it would be true to say that those lives lost on PS752 were collateral damage resulting from unrest in the region, but there are no extenuating circumstances that can excuse the action taken. Whether or not one agrees with the US decision to neutralise General Qasem Soleimani on 3 January, prompting the increase in tension within the Middle East and triggering the Iranian missile strikes against US facilities in Iraq four hours before the shooting down of PS752, to try to apportion blame to the US is pure political expediency.

The investigation is still in its very early stages. There is every reason to question Iran’s ability to conduct a thorough, honest, and transparent enquiry given its initial reaction to the disaster. When it must have been abundantly clear to the administration that the flight had been brought down by an Iranian missile, Ali Abedzadeh, the head of Iran’s Civil Aviation Authority, had the gall to claim that, “Scientifically, it is impossible that a missile hit the Ukrainian plane, and such rumours are illogical.” The international aviation community, as well as States at a diplomatic level, must ensure that Iran is held to account.

Iran at least came clean and admitted, on 11 January, that its “Armed Forces’ internal investigation has concluded that regrettably missiles fired due to human error caused the horrific crash of the Ukrainian plane & death of 176 innocent people. Investigations continue to identify & prosecute this great tragedy & unforgivable mistake.” But this was not just human error.

The officer who, in the heat of the moment and possibly genuinely believing that Iran was being targeted by US missiles, may have erred, but it was the decision not to close its airspace that is actually unforgiveable. Iran knew it was about to launch an attack on US bases in Iraq. Iran knew that the US might well respond with a tit-for-tat counter-attack. Iran knew, therefore, that civil aviation was at risk.

“…it was the decision not to close its airspace that is actually unforgiveable. Iran knew it was about to launch an attack on US bases in Iraq. Iran knew that the US might well respond with a tit-for-tat counter-attack. Iran knew, therefore, that civil aviation was at risk…”

Yet the airport remained open. Nine flights departed between the commencement of missile strikes in Iraq and the loss of PS752. Aeroflot had departed for Moscow, Qatar Airways to Doha and Turkish Airlines to Istanbul. So too had Iran Air and Mahan Air flights taken off. Ukraine International Airlines was the unlucky victim, partly because its captain had been diligent enough to off-load baggage as the aircraft was over its certified take-off weight – the reason for the hour delay in its departure. It seems, at this stage, that it could have been any flight caught in the crosshairs.

Aviation’s current excellent safety record has been achieved by embracing an abundance of caution and never knowingly gambling on a flight not having a Buckley’s Chance of being targeted. Where loopholes exist, they are acted upon, however remote the chance of tragedy occurring.

Since the loss of MH17, the industry has been addressing the risk posed to civil aviation over, or near to, conflict zones. In 2016, ICAO published guidance materials entitled Civil Aircraft Operations Over Conflict Zones and, following a number of ‘edits’, this morphed into the current Document 10084, now in its second edition, entitled Risk Assessment Manual for Civil Aircraft Operations Over or Near Conflict Zones.

ICAO also established a centralised, web-based repository for information related to risks to civil aviation arising from conflict zones – the Conflict Zone Information Repository (CZIR) – but this was later abandoned as States were not posting information on it. It was just politically too sensitive and became untenable; the CZIR was devised on the basis that States would share their airspace threat assessments, but that, in many cases, meant States calling out allies in a very public forum. Meanwhile, there was enough open source information available and some States were posting their own aeronautical information relating to operations over or near conflict zones on their own websites, whilst also disseminating Notices to Airmen (NOTAMs) to relevant stakeholders.

Regional organisations such as the European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) also publish bulletins. As an example, on 1 October 2019, EASA published a Conflict Zone Information Bulletin regarding Libyan airspace in which it said, “Due to the hazardous security situation, with the presence of terrorist organisations and ongoing high intensity military operations, there is a HIGH risk of both intentional and unintentional attacks to civil aviation at all altitudes. Air navigation services in the country could be degraded or unavailable.”

Furthermore, commercial organisations, such as Osprey Flight Solutions and MedAire, are filling the threat information gaps by providing their clients with even more timely, detailed and therefore valuable intelligence to facilitate effective risk assessment.

The potential for military errors can, however, be easy to overlook in risk assessment. Many question why airlines had assessed it to be safe to operate flights to Iran in the days following the death of Qasem Soleimani, yet the reality was that the ‘action’ was taking place in Iraq, not Iran. There was certainly a war of words between the US and Iran but Iranian airspace was not going to become endangered until Iran took the decision to carry out its attacks against US bases in Iraq.

Until those missiles were launched, it was more than reasonable for carriers to continue their operations to Iran – and to overfly the country. The Middle East in general has, since the dawn of aviation and indeed long before it, been an unstable region, but avoiding it is no easy task. It’s not just a matter of cost by not operating the shortest route, it’s also about the availability of (suitable) airports to divert to in case of emergency, the range of aircraft operating long-haul routes, flight connection times, crew operating hours, night time curfews at arrival and departure airports and weather. Furthermore, unlike ring roads around major population centres on the ground which are often notorious for their traffic jams, aircraft can’t simply stop and wait when the air routes become too busy.

States and airlines must continue to ensure effective risk assessment. That also means being able to make hasty decisions to file fresh flight plans and to determine that a departure might not be advisable due to the dynamic, ever-changing world we operate in. Whilst Iran may be culpable for the loss of PS752 given its failure to close its airspace when, according to General Amir Ali Hajizadeh the military had “requested several times that the country’s airspace become clear of all flights,” only to have such requests denied, airlines, too, need to consider whether they shouldn’t have aborted all flight departures the moment Iran attacked the US bases. That requires 24/7 risk assessment but it also means thinking ahead as to what action should be taken should political tensions escalate. Sadly, there was only a Buckley’s Chance of disaster striking PS752 – but it did – and as a result, 176 innocent souls are in our thoughts and prayers.