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.

Lead Editorial


It is often said that aviation security is reactive in nature and that it takes a major incident for the system to change and for new technologies to be embraced and deployed. The traditional checkpoint still consists of archway metal detectors and X-ray machines, with those in the developed world also utilising explosive trace detection technology. Sure, the detection capabilities of all these devices are much improved, but we have not witnessed any radical re-think of how we screen people and their baggage.

We are gradually seeing the deployment of computed tomography (CT) for cabin baggage screening, an increase in the capability of automated threat detection software for X-rayed bags and more widespread installations of advanced imaging technology (body scanners) for either random searches or the performance of secondary screening. That said, we’re still trying to identify the same threat items and substances as we did a decade ago and are not much nearer to being able to detect some of the more challenging explosive compounds or chemical, biological or radiological substances. That’s not to say the technological capability is not out there – it is. But we are resistant to demanding such technologies being deployed in an environment which has not (yet) witnessed the use of such weaponry. Complacency, however, is to be avoided.

Philip Baum

CCTV systems and access control solutions have become increasingly more powerful in detecting and recording intrusions, whilst management systems have created a more robust security environment, especially in the area of cyber security. Furthermore, given the disruption now regularly being caused by drone-related incidents, counter-drone technology manufacturers are flourishing. But back in the world of passenger and bag screening, perhaps because of regulation, innovation is more muted.

Last December, my lead editorial highlighted my five pet peeves with airports, air travel and hotel accommodation. This year, in a more positive vein, my ‘five of the best’ relate to some of the most exciting technologies I have seen that could enhance the security arsenal for any airport. Having recently attended the International Security Expo at London Olympia, I found that there were a number of products which both could, and even should, find their place within the security technology array that protects aircraft and those who fly in them. Refreshingly they are from various countries around the globe: Australia, South Korea, Israel, Belgium and Belarus.

I referenced explosive detection technology. The problem is that there is no single explosive compound. Many of the solutions deployed offer a high degree of accuracy and detection capability – but primarily for the five traditional ingredients of the military-grade improvised explosive device. We know that homemade explosives pose a much greater challenge and that a multitude of readily available inorganic compounds are undetectable.

“…manufactured in Melbourne, Australia, yet with its roots slightly further away in the chemistry labs of the University of Tasmania, was the GreyScan ETD-100.
The product can aid in the detection of the more accessible (i.e. inorganic) explosive substances…”

A long-term server on the editorial advisory board of this journal, Michael Breadmore, may be the man behind one of the industry’s game-changing technological innovations. On show in London, manufactured in Melbourne, Australia, yet with its roots slightly further away in the chemistry labs of the University of Tasmania, was the GreyScan ETD-100. The product can aid in the detection of the more accessible (i.e. inorganic) explosive substances that the more established explosive trace detection machines fail to identify. Such ammonium nitrate fertiliser-based explosives were the main charges of the bombs used in numerous IRA attacks and the Oklahoma City bombing and, this century, in the Bali bombings, attacks on synagogues in Istanbul, and at the Boston Marathon.

The detection capability was developed by the Australian Centre for Research on Separation Science, which is based in Hobart at the University of Tasmania. The project is led by Professor Michael Breadmore and was recognised this year when it won the Eureka Prize for Outstanding Science in Safeguarding Australia.

I look forward to visiting the commercial factory manufacturing GreyScan, and its new CEO, Samantha Ollerton, in Melbourne this December (albeit after this issue of Aviation Security International goes to press).

Many a product on display at the Expo claimed to be AI (artificial intelligence) enabled. With computer science enabling the development of technologies that are able to perform tasks which, to date, would have required human intelligence, and the industry determined to ensure that machines sound alarms rather than individual intuition, AI is set to be the buzzword of the next decade, whether one is looking at CCTV or screening solutions.

South Korea’s JLK Inspection was one such company proclaiming AI security solutions. Their XINSPECTOR utilises AI as a tool to evaluate X-ray images, claiming to minimise human error due to operator fatigue by automatically signalling potential threats. But JLK was also marketing an innovative method of screening unattended bags and that was what caught my eye.

The XPERT is an AI-based solution integrated into a hand-held, and therefore portable, X-ray camera. It enables security teams to move around airport terminals, external concourses and car parks, and X-ray any bag or item causing concern using low-dose radiation. The XPERT looks like a camera and takes images like a camera. The images are analysed within a couple of seconds using JLK Inspection’s unique AI algorithms which highlight potential threats.

Mifram Ltd. has a lengthy history of supplying innovative defensive products. Established in 1950, and based in Israel, the company manufactures a broad-range of anti-terror products from guard posts to fencing and from barriers to explosive-proof blast and fragment decompression flight simulator chambers. The latter was a one-time staple demand of the aviation industry, and Mifram is one of the few companies which continues to manufacture such systems to check cargo for the presence of barometric devices. One such system is installed at Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion International Airport.

However, in terms of innovation, it is Mifram’s MVB 3X™ barriers that seem to be an absolute necessity for any facility concerned about the now all-too-frequent use of vehicles to simply mow people down in public places including, potentially, on airport forecourts. The lightweight barrier prevents vehicles from ramming into restricted areas and can stop trucks of up to 7.5 tonnes by simply transferring the momentum of the vehicle from forwards to the ground.

Barriers are, in themselves, nothing new, but the availability of a modular solution offering the capability for a single security guard to quickly manoeuvre barriers into a defensive position as soon as alarm is raised, if not all the time, is noteworthy. Interesting that Cheddar – the online news network that features the world’s most innovative products, technologies and services – has covered the MVB 3X™ in an episode of Cheddar Gadgets.

A newer kid on the block is a Belgian company, 360 Solutions, which offers aviation security training through its e-learning solutions. The company currently offers a range of avsec-related courses, including on crowd management, evacuation, first aid and SeMS. The online courses include interactive video – including, as the company name suggests, 360° views of client facilities – information, animation and quizzes to assess comprehension.

Last, but by no means least, Adani. The company was founded in Belarus by Vladimir Linev (Ernst & Young’s Entrepreneur of the Year, Belarus 2018) back in 1991 and, whilst it offers solutions to the healthcare industry and a range of X-ray products for vehicle and cargo scanning, it is Adani’s CONPASS SMART DV body scanner that I remain convinced is a missing element of nearly all airports’ security systems.

The archway metal detector may well be the primary tool for routine screening and the passive millimetre wave technologies can, as mentioned, offer us an enhanced ability to identify a broader range of threat items concealed beneath clothing. However, the reality is that the human body itself can, as drug traffickers prove on a daily basis, be a vessel with which prohibited or restricted products can be infiltrated through checkpoints and onto aircraft. We like to believe that the airside areas of airports are sterile zones, but we only have to look at how many illicit goods manage to make it into far securer establishments, such as prisons, where there are fewer concerns about customer-service issues, queuing times and invasion of privacy, to realise that it is only a matter of time before an attack against aviation is facilitated by means of an internally concealed or surgically implanted weapon or device.

“…the XPERT is an AI-based solution integrated into a hand-held, and therefore portable, X-ray camera …”

Whilst not necessarily a solution for routine screening, transmission X-ray capability needs to be available to screeners who have cause for concern about an individual passenger of staff member. It is simply not good enough to clear a passenger simply because the AMD did not alarm and nothing was detected using millimetre wave technology. The CONPASS SMART DV, also now AI-enabled, is one solution that fills that gap and, given that Customs agencies around the globe rely on the technology to resolve their concerns, if we are serious about aviation security we too need to ensure that we build a screening system flexible enough to embrace solutions that achieve our security goals and address the likely threats of the future.

Technology purchases are obviously budgetary considerations, but in your letter to Santa (a.k.a. your Chief Financial Officer) this year, you might like to request some solutions that address vulnerabilities we know exist.

Wishing all our readers a happy, healthy, safe and secure 2020.

The contacts for all the companies featured may be found in the 2020 Buyers’ Guide on page 23.

Lead Editorial

Sharing Data, Sharing Resources: MOVING FROM ‘COULD’ TO ‘SHOULD’ by Philip Baum

Ordered a pizza by telephone recently?

“Hello! Giulia’s Pizza?” You expect the answer to be a ‘yes’, but instead it’s, “No sir. It’s Google’s Pizza.” You ask if it’s a wrong number, but the response is, “No sir, Google bought Giulia’s Pizza. Do you want your usual?”

Your usual? How do they know what you normally order? So you ask if they know you. “According to our caller ID data, over the last 12 months, you have ordered 11 thick crust pizzas, each with spicy beef, extra cheese, mushrooms and cream, together with a side order of chocolate cookies and a vanilla milkshake.” However, the woman continues, “May I suggest to you that this time you try our vegetarian pizza with leeks, spinach, onion, courgette and aubergine?”

Philip Baum

“What?”, you exclaim. “I hate vegetables”. “But sir, your cholesterol level is not good,” she retorts. “How do you know?” you ask.

“We cross-checked the number of your landline with your name, through the subscribers guide and we now have the results of your blood tests for the last five years.”. Angrily you assert that, “I want my usual pizza. I already take statins to address my cholesterol problems.”

“Excuse me, but we know that you have not been taking your statins regularly. Four months ago, you purchased a box with 28 cholesterol tablets at your local chemist and you have not been back there since. You also have not obtained a new prescription.”

“I bought more from another chemist over the counter.”

“Really sir? It’s not showing on your credit card statement”

“I paid in cash,” you exclaim. “But you have not withdrawn that much cash according to your bank statement”.

Now exasperated, you explain that you have another source of cash. “Well, on the basis of your tax return, we know that you have no cash earnings. So, if you bought them with undeclared income you would be breaking the law.”

Deciding that you no longer even want any kind of pizza, you tell the woman that, “I phoned to order pizza, cookies and a vanilla milkshake, not to receive either dietary or financial advice. I’m sick of Google, Facebook, Twitter and all other forms of social media. This is the final straw. I’m going overseas to an island without any internet or cable TV and where there is no mobile phone coverage and nobody to watch me or spy on me.”

“I am afraid that’s not happening sir. Your passport expired three weeks ago!”

Of course, this is slightly stretching the extent to which our every transaction is being monitored. Many readers will, however, be familiar with the kind of product marketing tactics which display an uncomfortable familiarity with our browsing history, product purchases, entertainment preferences and even political leanings. Big data shared, either intentionally or inadvertently, is certainly shaping our lives.

“…in the hierarchy, or even caste system, of security agencies, the Police, Immigration and Customs are top dogs and those who are actually fulfilling the screening tasks are clearly bottom of the security pile and are often treated with disdain…”

Granted the commercial benefits that are clearly being exploited nationally and internationally, questions remain as to why within a single airport we seem incapable of utilising the available data effectively to enhance the security of our industry. Why is it still the case that our checkpoint screeners operate blindly, with no knowledge as to how or where passengers bought their tickets, when they last travelled, where they live or even, in most cases, where they are even travelling to? And yet we expect them to make decisions which, if incorrect, can have catastrophic consequences which go way beyond the potential loss of life on any one aircraft.

Data protection concerns and political correctness may be the justification for the controls which exist on the transfer of personal information between industry stakeholders, yet what is completely unacceptable is the failure to share security resources between agencies operating at airports. There are far too many reports from around the globe of states where agencies maintain the silo mentality, where ego gets in the way of actioning intelligence and, worse still, preventing true security being achievable. In the hierarchy, or even caste system, of security agencies, the Police, Immigration and Customs are top dogs and those who are actually fulfilling the screening tasks are clearly bottom of the security pile and are often treated with disdain. They can be overruled by every other agency, despite the fact that many of the officers deployed by the ‘superior’ agencies often have very limited, or even zero, aviation security experience.

Picture the following scenario. A passenger causes extreme concern at a security checkpoint. The archway metal detector alarms. The security guard asks the passenger to remove their belt and shoes and go through the archway a second time. Another alarm. The passenger is then screened using millimetre wave technology. No alarm, but concern remains. The screening supervisor wants the passenger screened by a more advanced technology and knows that Customs have a transmission X-ray system for use in the identification of internally concealed narcotics. In your airport, what are the chances of permission being granted for such an inspection?

There are a broad range of security technologies available for use, and many more that could be deployed for the benefit of a range of security agencies. The stumbling block is often cited as being that of finance, but often it is also down to protectionism where one can sense that a fear exists of one agency detecting an illegal act which another agency should have identified.

This is not the case in every state. Many do foster cooperation. Often, however, that is in principle only and, for those operating at the coalface, the reality is somewhat more challenging.

Finance is actually rarely a genuine impediment to progress. If one were to calculate the actual cost of a single air force interception of a commercial aircraft which has been the subject of a bomb hoax or has an unruly passenger on board, it would dwarf the cost of purchasing some of the most sensitive and advanced detection technologies. The difference is simply that the cost of the interception comes out of an almost limitless defence budget whereas the purchase of a screening technology has to be fought for, often for years. And by which agency? And out of which cost centre?

“…move from a ‘could do culture’ to a ‘will do attitude’. And that can be achieved by cooperation. Breaking down silos. Reining in inflated egos. Sharing resources…”

A utopian view of the aviation security regime would, arguably, see a host of new technologies deployed. Explosive detection technologies for baggage and cargo screening could be integrated into aircraft holds or, at least, utilised during the loading process to further mitigate the insider threat. Passenger data, available to immigration officials, could be better utilised in the passenger screening process without compromising personal privacy. The idea of screening passengers on the move, mooted decades ago, is entirely achievable today and is used by customs and quarantine agencies. Facial recognition solutions could be used far more extensively to identify known criminals and those on government watchlists. Advanced perimeter intrusion detection systems could significantly address the scourge of airside trespassing for either criminal gain or in an attempt to stowaway on board aircraft. Could is not good enough…

We need to move from a ‘could do culture’ to a ‘will do attitude’. And that can only be achieved by cooperation. Breaking down silos. Reining in inflated egos. Sharing resources. And above all, working towards our common goals.

In most of our personal and business transactions there is now a greater sharing of information and resources than we would ideally wish for. But it works. To successfully protect our airports, aircraft, passengers and employees, we need to learn to move beyond striving to comply with standards and seek to excel. We cannot do that without functioning as a team and enhancing security in the same way that commercial operations generate increased sales. That means recognising that all security challenges are inter-related and, therefore, warrant unbridled interconnectivity.

Lead Editorial


The challenges we face in keeping our airports and aircraft safe and secure are constantly evolving. In the early days of aviation, the most frequently occurring criminal act was the theft of aircraft, often by joyriders or thrill seekers. Since then we have gone through different eras in which aircraft were commandeered to drop political propaganda leaflets, sabotaged for either insurance gain or as a means to murder an individual on board, skyjacked to escape political regimes, hijacked or bombed to ensure worldwide media coverage of the plight of a particular ethnic group, or targeted by suicidal individuals with warped religious ideologies devoid of any clear political message. There have been landmark dates or events – Dawson’s Field, Entebbe, Lockerbie, 9/11, Brussels – which have become enshrined in every aviation security course. So too have the unsuccessful attacks – the shoe bomber, the underpants bomber, the printer toner plot, the liquid explosive plot. The common thread of the events we choose to remember has always been – terrorist acts.

Philip Baum

Yet in between these ‘highlights’ are the multitude of other criminal acts, many of which have had equally catastrophic consequences, which, after a few days or weeks, we tend to quickly consign to history or, worse still, dismiss as not being an aviation security issue. Whilst there have been far more aircraft lost as a result of suicidal pilots than suicidal passengers, we pigeonhole the issue as being a safety-related problem. For many in the industry, the Germanwings disaster was the first example they had heard of pilot-assisted suicide – examples from Silkair, Royal Air Maroc and LAM Mozambican Airlines never featuring in any training course. And how quickly we have already forgotten Andreas Lubitz anyway.

Stowaways, hitching rides in the landing gears of aircraft, are just as illustrative of porous airport security as any hijacker managing to infiltrate a weapon through a checkpoint, yet we view these incidents as if we are more concerned for the fact that the stowaway might – and probably will – die, than we do to use the incidents to demand more robust perimeter intrusion detection capabilities.

It is possible that the industry fails to respond because the media does not highlight the security implications. Whilst they will ask how it can possibly be that somebody can get through a security checkpoint with a weapon, when a body falls from an aircraft as it commences its’ final approach, the focus will be on what happens to the human body when exposed to the elements at altitude, the process of the poikilothermic reaction, survival rates and the possibility of a stowaway being conscious as they fall. In other words, headline grabbers. But are we, in the aviation security industry, not better than that?

Whilst I feel sorry for John Baldock, the man who was sunbathing in a garden in south London when a body plummeted 3,500 feet from a Kenya Airways aircraft and landed just beside him, the real story is how the stowaway managed to get on board. And, given that this is the fourth such incident that I am aware of this year, surely the international community should be chomping at the bit to draft new standards to address access control failings. Or do we wait until the item that makes it into the landing gear is an IED rather than a desperate human being?

There is a huge appetite to address cyber vulnerabilities and a will to deploy countermeasures which will respond to the ever-increasing number of drone-related incidents. This is all very welcome. Aside from the terrorist threat, there are certainly economic reasons why these areas must be addressed. This July, British Airways was fined a staggering £183.39 million for allowing, through negligence, hackers to obtain personal data, including payment card details, of around half a million of its customers. And airports from Singapore to London Gatwick and Dubai to Madrid will be able to attest to the impact on airport operations of UAVs illegally entering restricted airspace, let alone, as we are witnessing in Saudi Arabia on an alarmingly regular basis, the potential for weaponised drones to target our airports.

“…the international community should be chomping at the bit to draft new standards to address access control failings…”

The majority of the day-to-day security challenges we face can be addressed through the use of technology. There are, however, notable exceptions.

The escalating number of incidences involving unruly passengers demands a far more robust policy. The airline industry itself is focussing on holding the unruly passenger to account – and so they should be – but they cannot abdicate themselves of their own responsibility to ensure, where possible, that passengers under the influence of excess alcohol are denied boarding. The Montreal Protocol makes no reference to fines that can be levied on carriers for their own dereliction of duty. If an airline can be fined for transporting an inadmissible passenger (who does not have correct travel documentation), why can it not also be fined for permitting loutish behaviour on board?

It might be hard to identify a lone individual who has drunk to excess, but in recent weeks there have been a disturbing number of reports in which large groups of people are alleged to have behaved in completely unacceptable manner on board commercial aircraft, with the low-cost carriers clearly having to clean up their acts. In May, a group of men were filmed drinking beer through a funnel on an easyJet flight from London Stansted to Alicante, allegedly assisted by a flight attendant, and, on a Ryanair flight from Berlin to Majorca, a group of men allegedly performed Nazi salutes and sang racist songs; they even wore clothing with extremist political slogans and were reported for their anti-social activity during the boarding process. In July, mob-like behaviour was witnessed on a Ryanair flight from Manchester to Zadar, Croatia, whilst, on yet another Ryanair flight, a stag party en route to Ibiza, carrying their own alcohol, terrified other passengers. Again, their clothing indicated trouble; they were wearing obscene T-shirts.

I see no reason, as some would like, to ban the sale of alcohol at airports. That penalises the masses for the failings of the few. But, like driving a car, there could be a clearly defined point at which a person is determined to be ‘over the limit’, and, if so, must be denied boarding. Breathalyser test kits at the gate? Why not? It’s all about responsible consumption levels and the only people who will really object are those who do drink to excess and those who are more concerned about the potential loss of revenue from alcohol sales than they are for aircraft safety.

The other area where policy, rather than technology, comes to the fore is in response to the seemingly increasing number of protests being staged at airports. Many of the objectives of the groups involved may be laudable – the climate change group, Extinction Rebellion, being a case in point. But airports are part of the national infrastructure and, in many states, the only gateway to the rest of the world. Consequently, the authorities have a duty to ensure that operations continue unimpeded and there comes a point where a supposedly peaceful protest warrants a more aggressive response. We must all become more environmentally aware, and it may well be the most pressing issue of our time, but that does not warrant action which prevents trade, denies people access to medical care, separates families at times of need and increases the stress levels of passengers, many of whom, are already suffering a battery of anxiety and/or stress-related disorders.

“…the Montreal Protocol makes no reference to fines that can be levied on carriers for their own dereliction of duty…”

One may be sympathetic to the reasons why protesters felt compelled to occupy Hong Kong International Airport, but many of their number were far from ‘peaceful’ as described by the international press and it was incumbent upon the security agencies to maintain control of the territory’s only aerial gateway. It cannot be acceptable for any group to take action which completely grounds flights for a prolonged period of time. Airports are usually very tolerant of small-scale protests, and often facilitate them when groups coordinate responsibly, but there is a disturbing trend towards more aggressive, large-scale actions which could have huge security implications in the years ahead.

Manufacturers and academics have developed highly sophisticated technologies that are capable of identifying many of the quantities of explosives that might have been used to target aircraft in the past. They are also capable of developing viable solutions to address many of our vulnerabilities. But they need to know what we need and it is incumbent upon the international community to set out a vision for the types of solutions we would like to see in place.

Just to take one of the aforementioned challenges – stowaways – as an example; in the age of the miniaturised cameras, CCTV surveillance of landing gears must be feasible at a very low cost? So too the use of heat-sensors. But if we also want to guard against the infiltration of IEDs onto aircraft, then we must also consider virtual fences which can surround an aircraft when it is at the gate or even poised at the end of the runway ready for take-off. Proactive security measures, that do not negatively impact passenger facilitation and which, nowadays, can be delivered at a very reasonable price.

Lead Editorial

Frankie Boyle: Typifying a World Without Order by Philip Baum

It would be more than reasonable for you to expect the lead editorial in this issue of the international journal of airport and airline security to focus on airport perimeter security. After all, there have been several significant recent incidents highlighting the fallibility of security fences and access control measures; most notably, the heist in Tirana, Albania, on 9 April, which resulted in €5m in cash being stolen by gunmen armed with AK-47s as it was being loaded onto an Austrian Airlines passenger jet bound for Vienna. Also comment-worthy, on 14 April, a man successfully managed to bypass security and secrete himself in the wheel well of an Air France flight at Guadeloupe’s Pointe à Pitre International Airport, and then survived the two-hour flight to French Guyana; if a body can be hidden in the aircraft fuselage, so can a bomb.

Philip Baum

But no, I’m afraid I’m opting to be a killjoy and put the world of comedy in the crosshairs. Why? Due to one TV channel-hopping experience which resulted in my watching a BBC2 programme entitled Frankie Boyle’s New World Order. Let me make it clear from the outset that I love satirical humour and, from a UK perspective, it has never been needed more; in the BREXIT (or maybe not!) era, our political elite seem to have completely lost the plot and are deserving of our scorn. I also freely admit that I have a problem with comedians that feel the need to lace every line with an expletive in order to get an extra laugh. I can, however, choose whether to watch a programme. There is plenty on television that I have next to no interest in, and may even be offended by, but I recognise that others could be equally appalled by things that I might enjoy.

“…I am astonished how intelligent, socially responsible and morally well-intended individuals, often in the public eye, freely litter their tweets with either scathing personal attacks…or the ‘ooh, aren’t I clever’ use of obscenities…”

However, there is a point at which we must question whether what is being broadcasted is conducive to the public good. Until 25 April, I had never written to complain about any TV programme and my only previous press complaint related to an article which referenced me – incorrectly citing my views on passenger profiling. However, Frankie Boyle’s puerile, pseudo-intellectual and, most worryingly, potentially dangerous offering changed all that. The standard-form BBC response was predictable: “Comedy is one of the most subjective areas of programming and there is no single set of standards on which the whole of society can agree. While it’s never our intention to offend our audience, it is perhaps inevitable that aspects of our programmes which are acceptable to some will occasionally strike others as distasteful. Our Editorial Guidelines uphold the right to freedom of expression and the right of programme-makers to include material which some members of the audience may find inappropriate or offensive.”

I disagree. In order for me to watch any television in the United Kingdom, I have to pay the BBC a £154.50 licence fee. I have no choice. But whilst it may matter little whether I am a disgruntled customer, it is of far greater significance if our light entertainment programming impacts negatively on behaviour in society. The upmost care and vetting needs to be exercised, especially in the area of comedy – edgy comedy in particular – to ensure that viewers mental health also be considered and material does not fuel the declining respect we see displayed in our everyday lives. Perhaps the editorial guidelines of the BBC should, at the very least, be to “uphold the right to freedom of expression and the right of programme-makers to include material which”, and here I would change it to ‘the majority’ (rather than ‘some’), “members of the audience may find inappropriate or offensive.” Or, in these post-BREXIT referendum days, rather than >50%, I’ll accept a >60% substantial majority view!

We live in a society where we all have to be exceptionally cautious about what we say. As we go about our daily lives, and in the workplace in particular, we have to go overboard to ensure that no remark can be perceived as being homophobic, ageist, racist or prejudiced. Even light-hearted comments, where no individual person was targeted, can result in litigation. We have clamped down on ‘freedom of expression’ and, in doing so, supposedly made tremendous progress in creating a more caring, sensitive and loving society. Until we turn on our televisions or, worse still, enter the world of social media…

Broadcast communication is more offensive than ever. I only dabble with Twitter (referencing this in my last lead editorial), partly as I am astonished how intelligent, socially responsible and morally well-intended individuals, often in the public eye, freely litter their tweets with either scathing personal attacks (we tell children not to say something online that they would not say to a person’s face) or the ‘ooh, aren’t I clever’ use of obscenities.

That’s all well and good if the attacks are truly satirical. Jim Jefferies is a foul-mouthed Australian comic but most of his material is, I think, absolutely fantastic. It is true that his most famous sketch targets supporters of the US Second Amendment and their right “to keep and bear Arms”, and, whilst I might love it, some might find offensive. But it targets a policy, not an individual.

The media has declared open season on Donald Trump. In the next few weeks, as Trump prepares for his State Visit to the United Kingdom, there will be an outpouring of angst and mass protests; in its coverage, the media has a duty to maintain perspective and ensure that a line is drawn between political satire and personal attacks – especially when they relate to physical features, an area in which the US channels are even more culpable of caricature excess than their British counterparts. I return to Frankie Boyle’s programme…

Yes, I thought that the use of expletives seemed puerile; there was the shock factor of using the ‘C’ word (sorry, my publisher won’t allow me to use it!). Yes, I thought that plenty of Boyle’s material was over-the-edgy; ‘joking’ that “I really don’t think I could watch if Trump were assassinated because I’d be [makes reference to sexual gratification] my glasses would fall off” has, I believe, no place on television. You can loathe the man, but not relish the idea of the democratically elected leader of our closest ally being killed on the streets of London.

Boyle has track record; earlier in April, in commenting about Theresa May’s meeting with leading Brexiteers, the BBC sanctioned his remark, “Where the [F-word] are the IRA when you need them?” To joke about a terrorist attack (the bombing of a Brighton hotel by the IRA during the Conservative conference in 1984) is unacceptable at any time, but especially on a state-owned TV network at a time when the Northern Ireland peace process is making the headlines again; was there any consideration that the victims and their loved ones might be watching? Worse still, albeit more historical, Boyle thought it funny to tell a joke on TV (albeit not on the BBC) about supermodel Jordan’s disabled child, saying, “Jordan and Peter Andre are still fighting each other over custody of Harvey – eventually one of them will lose and have to keep him.” Whilst I can at least choose not to watch or not to tune in again, the reality is that the establishment, by permitting this material airtime, contributes to the normalisation of offensive communication.

However, the limit is really reached when ‘humour’ starts to focus on physical attributes. Boyle targeted Trump. Donald Trump can choose his policies but not his looks. He has family members who may not have elected to pursue such a public life. Maybe Trump is easy cannon fodder and embraces his international notoriety, but the same cannot be said for Michael Gove, a prominent member of the current UK Conservative government and potentially the next Prime Minister. The Boyle show ended with a litany of attacks on Gove…all based on his physical appearance and none relating to his politics. And this was where I drew my red line. Like Gove or hate him, no person should ever be subjected to such a torrent of abuse in any circumstances and most certainly not at the expense of BBC licence fee payers. It was not satirical. It was disgusting. The man has a family, who did not put themselves in the public spotlight; for them, such ‘humour’ could have catastrophic consequences. Indeed, they could for anybody who has concerns about their own body image. They are not fair game and, even if I can’t, they certainly don’t need to take it all as a joke.

Rarely a day goes by without the issue of mental health being in the news. The scale of the challenge we face as a society is terrifying and it is incumbent upon our public broadcasters to uphold standards that ensure that we do not fail to encourage people to show respect. If we are trying to be a more politically correct society, the same rules should apply to what appears on our television screens.

“…every three hours the safety of a flight within the EU is threatened by passengers behaving in an unruly or disruptive manner…”

So, what has Frankie Boyle got to do with aviation security? According to the European Union Aviation Safety Agency, in a report published this April, “Every three hours the safety of a flight within the EU is threatened by passengers behaving in an unruly or disruptive manner.” Note that this is just in the EU and only refers to reported incidents. Worldwide the problem is far higher. “At least 70% of these incidents [in the EU] involve some form of aggression”, which is terrifying for the crewmembers and other passengers on board. The problem of unruly passengers is growing at a phenomenal rate and crewmembers are all attesting to the fact that there appears to be an increasing breakdown in discipline. There are multiple reasons for this, and often alcohol is a causal factor, but overall the language used by unruly passengers has plunged to new depths and the respect shown to uniformed personnel who are there for passengers’ safety and security has diminished. Airlines are not immune from criticism, and I am certainly not suggesting that Boyle-style show viewers, and their ilk, are the cause of flight diversions. But the erosion of respect demonstrated on TV and in social media legitimises, and tacitly encourages, the nature of the outbursts the industry witnesses.

“…the erosion of respect demonstrated on TV and in social media legitimises, and tacitly encourages, the nature of the outbursts the industry witnesses…”

Imagine how the flight attendant of an Air India flight to London felt on 11 November 2018 when confronted by the Irish human rights lawyer, Simone Burns. She set out her position, whilst demanding more alcohol, declaring that, “I’m a [expletive] international lawyer” and referred to the crew as “Indian money-grabbing [expletive]”. An educated woman, Burns questioned, “Do you treat business-class passengers like that? Who are international criminal lawyers for the Palestinian people?” and felt that she was sufficiently self-important to be able to claim that, “If I say boycott [expletive] Air India…done!” She was rightly jailed for her tirade, but would the same language have been used a decade or so ago? One-off incidents perhaps, but not, as is now the case, on a daily basis.

Set aside alcohol-driven incidents if you wish, but not outbursts resulting from mental health issues. Airlines are carrying an ever-increasing number of passengers who are taking anti-depressants and who have anxiety-related disorders. All too often, body image issues are a contributory factor. As the retail industry knows only too well, advertisers are having to be more cautious about the portrayal of the ‘body-beautiful’, so surely the least we can expect of our broadcasters is to refrain from ridiculing those whose features are not the most desirable? Those who think that they are just having a bit of fun at the expense of others should be constrained because often that naïve banter can have damaging consequences – in society and, consequently, in the passenger cabins in the skies.

Lead Editorial


I arrived in New Zealand on 13th March this year ready to deliver a training course based on behavioural analysis techniques. As the aircraft made its final approach, I once again considered how I was going to persuade course delegates that the possibility of a serious attack in New Zealand was to be taken seriously and that geographical location was no defence from those whose hearts were filled with hatred or whose minds were awash with desperate thoughts. Less than two days later, 50 innocent individuals had their lives cut short in two mosques in Christchurch as a result of the actions of one depraved individual who not only wanted to kill but also sought to turn it into an international spectacle by livestreaming his massacre on the internet.

I wish I could say that I was surprised. Horrified yes, but not surprised. Across the globe, we are witnessing similar acts of xenophobia-fuelled terrorism. Perhaps not on the same scale, but the mindset is often the same. And this was a terrorist attack. Any attempt to downplay it and reserve the term ‘terrorism’ almost exclusively for Islamist attacks perpetrated by radicalised individuals also smacks of more than a degree of xenophobia. The Christchurch attacker, whose name New Zealand’s prime minister has elected never to utter, had a political ideology. White supremacists of his ilk are growing in numbers and we need to wake-up to the plague they bring to civilised society.

Philip Baum

It is perhaps strange that the two most deadly supremacist attacks of recent years have occurred in countries with relatively small populations at either end of the globe – Christchurch, New Zealand and, in the case of Anders Behring Breivik, in Oslo and Utøya, Norway. Then again, perhaps it is that sense of complacency that allows perpetrators to operate in such locales beneath the radar. That being the case, we need to revisit our concepts of high-risk environments. For airlines, there are no high-risk routes if one considers all the threats to which we are exposed.

“…50 innocent individuals had their lives cut short in two mosques in Christchurch as a result of the actions of one depraved individual…”

Those who have heard me speak at conferences will be familiar with my appeal to the aviation security community to view its remit as going well beyond that of traditional terrorism. But there is huge resistance. There is probably no single reason for this, but I think that our being accustomed to facing the threat of terrorist attacks perpetrated by members of the Muslim faith – both recently in terms of AQ or IS-inspired jihadist attacks and earlier in the form of the Palestinian nationalist hijackings and bombings of the last century – has become the rationale for the war we choose to fight. Don’t get me wrong, that threat has not diminished. The recent collapse of the so-called caliphate and the migration – sometimes homeward-bound – of the defeated foreign fighters poses a terrifying threat given that it was an army rather than an ideology that was defeated. And we would be wrong, therefore, not to consider some locations being more exposed to that threat than others. But we must open our eyes to the xenophobia that exists, both as a result of the fundamentalist attacks and more generally as a result of demographic change inspired by climate change, economic migration and media messaging.

It has become so much easier to hate. I have never been a big user of Twitter but I admit that I have, due to the Brexit debate, found myself following some of the musings of a handful of politicians (including @ZacGoldsmith and @lucianaberger), relatives of renowned politicians (such as @Emily_Benn), journalists (including @freedland and @maitlis), comedians (@JKCorden and, of course, @Baddiel) and aviation security professionals, alongside those academics who effect research in the behavioural analysis field. With a couple of exceptions, it’s not the comments of those I follow that trouble me, rather the responses they receive to their comments and the diatribe in the threads that they follow. I am shocked and saddened to see the vile, disrespectful, racist, anti-Semitic, obscene messages that are expressed by people who are active in local government and who represent supposedly charitable organisations. Disagreement over political issues is no longer a debate – it’s a blinkered, cowardly, foul-mouthed volley of hatred. I’m right. You’re wrong. A forum where we can use language that is unacceptable on the airwaves or in person. I find myself loathing the scum who, hidden away in the comfort of their homes, and often more blatantly, launch personal attacks with complete disregard for the emotional impact that they might be having on others.

What is happening in the United Kingdom is a tragedy, whichever side of the Brexit debate one stands on. We are witnessing a divided society where compromise seems to have little place, respect for the opinion of others has gone out the window and xenophobia reigns supreme. But you don’t have to be British. Across Europe, extreme political agendas are being promulgated and, in the US, the political landscape has never been so polarised and disrespectful of differing opinions.

This all creates a dangerous cocktail where extremism, and even fascism, flourishes and, to a certain extent, is tolerated. Crackdown on livestreaming? No way, that interferes with my rights. Abolish the right to bear arms? How am I to defend myself and my family (without my assault rifle!)? Anti-Semitism becomes mixed up with anti-Zionism. Islamophobia becomes justified. Global village – dream on!

Of course, we are not seeing aircraft being hijacked or blown out of the skies by white supremacists, so it is easy to turn a blind eye. But we are seeing hate crimes perpetrated at our airports, an escalation in the number of serious inflight unruly passenger incidents, an increase in the number of suicides at airports and a litany of insider criminal acts being prosecuted in the courts. In the last two months, we have had at least one act of aircraft-assisted suicide and three hijackings.

We must, of course, avoid knee-jerk responses to incidents such as Christchurch. The threat today is probably no higher than it was on 14th March. True, there could be copycat attacks by emboldened supremacists and yes there could be revenge attacks from the extremes of the Muslim community, but the fact is that we knew before the Christchurch attack that the city was home to the more right-wing elements of New Zealand society. We knew then and know now that there are also those with severe mental health problems who could elect to go out in a blaze of ‘glory’. We saw that with Stephen Paddock in Las Vegas. So, we need to build capabilities into our aviation security system to highlight these people.

“…vile, disrespectful, racist, anti-Semitic, obscene messages that are expressed by people who are active in local government and who represent supposedly charitable organisations…”

This is not about focussing on the person who is perspiring excessively or is seemingly very nervous (of course we should, whilst recognising that there are an abundance of reasons for people to be stressed at airports), but rather to encourage staff to use their senses and identify the change in behaviour of fellow employees, recognise an increased in troubling social media transactions and report concerns about colleagues’ well-being.

There is an argument to suggest that employees’ political affiliations are their own business and nobody else’s. But when the out-of-work rhetoric impacts the mood of those around them and can engender bigoted responses, turning the other cheek may not always be the appropriate response.

Lead Editorial


Christmas time is supposed to be the season of goodwill to all men, yet it has also, historically, been the period in which there have been a disturbing number of attacks against civil aviation. 21 December marked the 30th anniversary of the loss of Pan Am 103 over Lockerbie and it was also the date on which Richard Reid tried to board a flight in Paris with a bomb in his shoes; he did not manage to board due to concerns over his appearance and behaviour, only to return and board the flight the next day when, fortunately, he failed to ignite the fuse. And, of course, it was on Christmas Day itself that Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab attempted to destroy a Northwest flight en route from Amsterdam to Detroit with a bomb in his underpants. And there are many more examples.

Small wonder then that, when London Gatwick airport had to be closed due to there being multiple sightings of drones over a three-day period in the week leading up to Christmas, one of the concerns was that there had been a deliberate attempt to, at best, disrupt, or, worst-case, attack our civil aviation system. After all, the 1960s-80s were the hijacking era, the 80s to the noughties the bombing era and the last decade has seen authorities have to consider and respond to attacks against aircraft inflight, caused by laser strikes on aircraft cockpits, suicidal pilots (we think of Germanwings and, potentially, the cause of the still unsolved loss of MH370), cyber-related incidents, missiles (MH17)…and drones.

Philip Baum

The aim of terrorism is to disrupt our daily lives, and that can be achieved whether or not an attack succeeds. Look at the impact of the liquid explosive plot as an example. And at London Gatwick; the net result of that week’s incident was that tens of thousands of passengers and crew had their Christmas travel plans disrupted, and many did not make it home for family festivities as the industry was already working at capacity at that time of year. If flights are cancelled, there is simply no space on other flights to accommodate all those who want travel.

It is estimated that 300,000 new drones are sold every month. There would have been an abundance of the latest must-have technological gadgets awaiting new owners beneath Christmas trees. The vast majority of users will pilot their aircraft – as that’s what they are – responsibly and adhere to guidelines. Yet there are a disturbing number of incidents of misuse being reported. In the US, the Federal Aviation Administration received in excess of 100 reports per month of drone sightings close to airports and “eleven events involving aircraft having to be manoeuvred out of the way of a drone.” Also in December, an Aeromexico B-737, arriving in Tijuana from Guadalajara, was seemingly hit by a drone and the images (see Air Watch) show just how close a call that flight had with meeting a catastrophic end. Most pilots believe that it’s not a question of if, but when, an aircraft will meet its demise as a result of a drone incident.

Pilots can manoeuvre their way around drones – if they see them in time. But drones are comparatively small and, given the speed at which aircraft fly, there are no guarantees that this will be the case. And whilst they may be small, they are still predominantly constructed out of metallic products. The industry has enough of a problem with bird strikes causing damage to, and failure of, engines. In New York, it is estimated that the authorities kill thousands of birds every year in order to safeguard aircraft from these metal-free organic hazards. Illustrating the threat, one only has to look at the crash of the US Airways flight into the Hudson River when, it is believed, a flock of Canadian geese caused the loss of both engines. Imagine the impact of a drone swarm.

The British Airline Pilots Association is asking the UK government to toughen the penalties for drone misuse, abuse and acts of foolhardiness, and “to create a larger no-fly zone around airports.” I agree, but whilst sentencing and no-fly zones might help prevent hobbyists using drones irresponsibly, they do not address the threat posed by those who intend to target aviation and who care little for what the user guidelines or penalties are.

In 2018, we had the attempted assassination of the Venezuelan president in a drone attack and, in Yemen, we have had Houthi rebels targeting Saudi facilities using drones. In the UK, the security services are using drones to effect better surveillance, but, internationally, the fear is that the more the military and police use the technology, the greater the likelihood of them falling into the hands of those with malicious intent. After all, we only have to look at the original source of weaponry used against our forces in Afghanistan and Iraq.

On the surface, one might consider the primary threat to be the more sophisticated fully-autonomous drones with their ability to hit their targets with millimetre precision and change course depending on the target’s movement and weather conditions. In the wrong hands, they are something to fear, but of greater concern is the huge proliferation of semi-autonomous drones which can be remotely piloted via GPS towards their target. There are also what are known as ‘dumb bombs’ – available to buy for around £200 – where the drone can be piloted by an operator close by. The fear is not only the damage the drone itself can cause to an aircraft, but also what that drone might carry as its payload.

Detonating even a small explosive charge next to an aircraft could have disastrous results, but, even if it fails to destroy it, the climate of fear it would create would be regarded by a terrorist organisation as a success. On the ground, there is understandable concern that drones might be used to target airports, or indeed any location, carrying chemical or biological weaponry.

The ease of access to drones, and their comparative low cost, has made them an attractive tool for terrorist groups. In the same way that we have seen terrorists use vehicles to plough their way into groups of innocent pedestrians, worshippers, revellers and shoppers, so too we are exposed to the risk of people, who may not be suicidal themselves, opting to attack from the skies remotely.

For aviation, we have to consider what can be put in place as a defence. The first challenge is that of detection, and the second is the way in which we intervene when a potential threat is identified.

For detection, our eyes and ears are, as always, not to be discounted, but there is also a range of acoustic, infrared and electro-optical measures on the market. Other vendors, in this rapidly expanding marketplace, are investing their research into a focus on countermeasures. Some of these are high-tech in nature – jamming and spoofing – whilst others are the more visible, traditional solutions. Trials are underway on the use of counter-drones, which can intercept rogue intruders into restricted airspace, falcons (and other birds) which can be trained to fly out and grab an unwelcome drone, and various canon systems that can fire anything from missiles to water.

There’s little doubt that the threat posed by drones is taxing the authorities and concerning pilots, but we must ensure that we do not over-react. There will be incidents, such are the number of drones in circulation but there are also car incidents, and far more of them on the roads, so before you cave in and avoid taking to the skies, do remember that aviation remains the safest form of transport.

Or at least civil aviation is. General aviation still has inherent risks and people prepared to take them. On 21 January this year it would appear that the Emiliano Sala took such a risk when he commissioned the pilot of a Piper PA-46 Malibu to fly him from Nantes to Cardiff following his transfer between French and Welsh football clubs. It was a freezing, dark winter’s night and many within the industry considered it foolhardy to fly a single-engine aircraft across the English Channel in windy conditions. Any problem would lead to a ditching and, in such conditions, survival would be unlikely. As fate would have it, the pilot did have to request permission to descend from 5,000 feet to 2,300 feet, whilst Sala himself was sending WhatsApp voicemails indicating the severity of the situation they found themselves in. Soon after, all contact with the aircraft was lost and Sala never realised his dream of playing in the English Premier League. Cardiff City FC supporters were to mourn the player they never saw play.

“…it is not a question of if, but when, an aircraft will meet its demise as a result of a drone incident…”

Drone incidents, as we have also witnessed in places as far afield as Queenstown and Newark since the Gatwick shutdown, are responded to with an abundance of caution and rightly so. Whilst general aviation does not carry the passenger loads that commercial aviation does, it must also become more risk averse. In the same way that commercial aviation is developing SeMS (security) programmes following the success of SMS (safety) ones, general aviation must also better respond to the emerging security threats facing the aviation industry as a whole. All aircraft face the threat of drones but none more so than those in the general aviation space.