Security training catapults to top of companies’ agendas

 - October 3, 2007, 11:03 AM

Security and safety training is suddenly a hot topic. When NBAA holds its convention next month, it is offering nearly a dozen new informational sessions that will address safety, security and business aircraft operations in today’s environment. Air Security International, which had dropped a series of one- and two-day security training seminars in 1996, citing “a lack of demand,” is now receiving inquiries from flight departments as to the availability of such training.

At Richard Kobetz & Associates’ Executive Protection Institute, which specializes in corporate protective services, the number of queries into the company’s 110-hr introductory security and safety training course has quadrupled in the past month. At FlightSafety International, program manager Beth Ganley said the New York-based pilot and flight attendant training company is considering adding self-defense as one aspect of its security syllabus.

Since September 11 business aviation has experienced a renewed interest in security and safety training, and it is an interest that some say is long overdue.

Patrick Gordon has been a corporate pilot who has logged thousands of hours flying in the Middle East, often carrying royal family members and heads of state. He recalls that in 1981, “I made a presentation to the Flight Safety Foundation about aircraft security and was nearly booed off the stage and declared a heretic.”

In his talk, Gordon argued against policies that denied aircrews faced with a hijacking any option other than acquiescence to the hijacker’s demands. He promoted the idea of extensive security training, noting that while terrorists are well trained in and dedicated to violent means of achieving an end, aircrews are neither trained in nor willing to resort to violence to ensure their safety and the safety of their passengers.
Twenty years later, Gordon is reluctant to resort to an “I told you so” attitude, but is no less an advocate of thorough and detailed security and safety training for aircrews. He recalled the old military adage that “you train the way you expect to fight.” Added Gordon, “To date, we haven’t trained at all.”

That will change, however, if business aviation learns anything at all from September 11.

A growing number of business aircraft owners and operators are beginning in-house security training, not only for aircrew but for virtually everyone, from aircraft handlers and customer service representatives to dispatchers and maintenance crews. One company has already created magnetic-strip photo ID badges for all employees of its flight department and is requiring two forms of identification for every passenger. “And that’s just the beginning,” said one of the department’s pilots.
Steve Phillips, director of marketing for fractional-ownership operator Flexjet, said the company has a full-time security officer who provides in-house crew training. But like many FBO directors, flight department managers and charter operators, Phillips declined to discuss details, as a security precaution.

Stepping Up Ground Security
Increased ground security is a step advocated by security experts, who point out that if the security on the ground is as it should be, a would-be terrorist will never even gain access to the airplane, much less to the flight deck at 35,000 ft.
Kobetz, executive director and founder of the Executive Protection Institute in Berryville, Va., has been in the corporate security and protection business for more than 20 years and warns that security extends beyond the actual flight. He said there are dozens of links in the chain of security: “You have to consider who’s coming on the airplane, what’s being transported on the airplane, airport and ramp security and what you must do when you discover a breach of security.

“The idea,” he said, “is to include the aircrew as part of the entire security program.”
Crew security and safety training  is, nevertheless, a major concern for aircrews and passengers alike. There appear to be few sources for aviation-specific training in a formal setting.

Houston-based Air Security International, which discontinued its aircrew security courses five years ago, is already considering reactivating its security training seminar series due to the recent surge in inquiries. Air Security president and founder Israel “Issy” Boim said in recent weeks that Signature Flight Support  and Flexjet have separately asked the company to conduct a security survey and make recommendations on how to increase security.

Boim is a former Israeli citizen and member of the Israeli security service Shinbet. He was also part of a team assigned to create El Al Israel Airlines’ much vaunted security program.

Referring specifically to the hijacking of four U.S. airliners on September 11, Boim was blunt. “Aviation was chosen as a weapon because it had become complacent.” He added, however, that “aviation cannot remain complacent and remain safe, and security training is the first step.”

While Air Security International may have shelved its one- and two-day security courses, the company’s expertise has not eroded. An agreement with Bombardier to conduct one-day international security training for aircrews and flight departments of new Challenger 604s has kept Air Security instructors current.

Other Training
Security training is also finding its way into training offered by a variety of providers, including Susan Friedenberg’s Corporate Flight Attendant Training program out of Philadelphia. Friedenberg does 10 training courses a year and has already modified the syllabus to include a greater emphasis on security.

“Flight attendants are on the front line in security,” she explained. “I warn them to have catering meals sealed by the caterer and delivered directly to the airplane. I tell them to question people they see on the ramp without proper identification, and never to discuss their job, their trip or their passengers with anyone. I even suggest that at airports outside the U.S., they should wash the dishes themselves, rather than trust it to someone they don’t know.”

Friedenberg said that in the weeks before the September 11 terrorist attacks, she had received a number of disturbing e-mails from Middle Eastern individuals professing to be interested in her training. One of them had a return address ending in “” Friedenberg said she reported them to the FBI. “I can’t just teach security and ignore it myself,” she said. “I want to know who I’m training.”

Doug Mykol, president of AirCare International of Olympia, Wash., said his company is already reconsidering the security syllabus of the company’s Facts cabin emergency training course. And he noted that in response to inquiries about self-defense, Facts is talking with companies that specialize in that type of training to see if it could be offered in some form.

Probably few security and safety training courses match those offered by the Executive Protection Institute. Kobetz and his staff have put numerous aircrews and even entire flight departments through its rigorous 110-hr introductory course. The syllabus includes threats to corporate aviation; airport services; operational security at airfields; security systems; sabotage; crisis management; coping with a hijacking or bomb threat; and practical exercises in self-protection.

Security specialists generally agree that in terms of training, one thing has changed dramatically. No longer will aircrews be taught to give in to a hijacker’s demands. “Not since September 11, when the terrorists turned airplanes into flying bombs,” said Boim.

The old “fly me to Cuba” hijacking disappeared on September 11, said Kobetz. “Now we are in an era of ‘kamikaze hijacking’ and everyone’s thinking has changed.”
Pilots and flight attendants alike are now demanding to know what they can do in the air to ensure their own protection and that of their passengers.

Neither Boim nor Kobetz advocates arming aircrews, though they admitted that there are aircraft on which pilots do carry firearms, hidden but easily accessible.
Boim points out that there is much to do before a firearm is an effective defense, not the least of which is proper training, a willingness to use the weapon and ammunition designed for use aboard a pressurized airplane. “A gun may be good for the ego, but it’s not much good in terms of security,” said Boim.

Kobetz agreed: “I have a problem with anyone without proper training having access to a firearm. And even if they have the training, it is a matter of whether they also have the right mindset to use it.”

There will be many new security measures put in place in the coming months by business aviation as a means to avoid acts of terrorism. But there is no single “silver bullet” that is absolute protection, said Kobetz. “You train everyone in security, you keep training them and you never let them forget that there is a threat.

“Hopefully,” he concluded, “the attacks on September 11 will create a paranoia that will last the rest of our lives and in the end save lives.”

Security training for Part 121 and Part 135 aircrews may get a boost from S.1447, the Aviation Security Act, a bill passed by the Senate that provides for training for flight crews in how to respond to a hijacking, among other things. At press time, H.R. 2951, a companion bill in the House of Representatives, was awaiting approval.
In a recent letter, corporate pilot Gordon recalled a statement made by a former terrorist that “non-violence is a bourgeois luxury.”

“You and I are the bourgeois she was referring to,” said Gordon, “and when the preventive precautions fail, we are at a complete disadvantage because we haven’t the ruthlessness or the training to react to the violence with which we are confronted.

“There is a need for management, and for us as individuals to plan and train for the day when prevention fails.”