Europe tightens bizav anti-terrorism security

 - January 8, 2008, 10:37 AM

The European Business Aviation Association (EBAA) has drawn up a list of security recommendations in a bid to ensure uniform standards at the continent’s FBOs. The recommendations are expected to be included in the association’s new code of practice for business aircraft ground handling when it is published later this year.

Significantly, the new recommendations include full identity and baggage screening of all departing passengers. This does not appear to be current standard operating procedure at most European FBOs, nor is it yet a legal requirement of many European governments.

Along with their U.S. counterparts, European FBOs have struggled to respond to the security challenge posed by the post-September 11 terrorist threat. Most FBOs quizzed by AIN on security procedures said they are not routinely screening passengers and crews, as is now standard practice for airline flights.

For example, current UK regulations mandate the screening of passenger baggage only for aircraft weighing more than 15 metric tons (33,069 lb). This includes most small and midsize business jets now flying.

British FBOs are required to provide Special Branch (the country’s main anti-terrorist agency) with passenger and crew lists for all arriving or departing international flights (including those from other European Union countries) and its officers decide whether or not they wish to come and screen the flight in person. This means that, in theory, someone chartering an aircraft under this weight limit for a domestic flight need not be subject to any security screening–seemingly creating a potential security loophole for would-be hijackers wanting to use an aircraft as a weapon.

PrivatAir’s director of security, Nato Hahn, said that the executive aircraft charter and management group has long had in place a rigorous process of checks specifically to close this type of loophole. When a charter booking comes in from an individual or company that is not among PrivatAir’s established high-profile clientele, Hahn’s team conducts a full background check before approving the flight. “If we don’t feel at ease with it, then the flight does not go ahead,” he told AIN. The background checks can take anywhere from five minutes to several days or even weeks to complete.

Even bookings from established Fortune 500-type clients will not be taken completely at face value, with employees throughout the company being trained to challenge and cross-check any situation that does not seem entirely secure. Hahn said he could not comment on whether such policies are now being pursued throughout the executive charter market, but did conclude that, generally, security awareness in the business aviation community is higher since September 11. In fact, he expressed surprise many companies have still not turned to business aviation as an alternative to airline service in the seemingly worsening world security climate.

The operator, which has substantial fleets in both Europe and the U.S., also operates a list of no-go destinations. This currently includes violence hot spots such as Nigeria, Colombia, Congo and Sierre Leone. Hahn said that if a long-standing customer really needs to go somewhere on this list, PrivatAir will seek to find a way to accommodate them, perhaps by resorting to a Plan B such as using a lower-profile airport or dropping off the clients and then repositioning the aircraft to wait in a safer location before collecting them for the return flight.

Since September 11, PrivatAir has also hired a new chief of security for its U.S. operations and three other security staff. According to chief executive Dave Hurley, this has added annual costs of between $350,000 and $400,000.

PrivatAir also provides ground handling to other operators at its Geneva and Paris Le Bourget FBOs. Hahn said the degree of security exercised for these flights is dictated entirely by customer requirements, but PrivatAir’s standard procedures do require passenger identification.

Hahn said that, in theory, business aviation would benefit from having standardized security procedures. However, in practice, he is not convinced there is a sufficiently generic but effective model for such procedures that would be effective for the diverse range of operations encompassed by business aviation. “What is needed is an acceptable level of security without making companies go bankrupt,” he concluded.

Last Line of Defense
In a temporary building next to London City Airport’s brand-new Jet Centre, there is an X-ray machine and metal detector arch that are used to screen visiting contractors and staff. Jet Centre manager Darren Grover told AIN that passengers and crew are hardly ever screened. However, he added that he fully expects the British authorities to extend comprehensive screening to business aircraft operations, and with this in mind he had a section of the new terminal’s floor specially reinforced to take the weight of an X-ray machine.

This is not to suggest that the London City Jet Centre is in any way negligent in implementing security procedures currently required. Indeed, the airport is in the process of installing new biometric identification equipment provided by Daon, a Dublin, Ireland-based stablemate of LCY (both enterprises are owned by Dermot Desmond).

In some instances, FBOs are proving to be the last line of defense where broader airport security has failed. For example, a group of passengers was recently able to drive past a military checkpoint into London’s Northolt Royal Air Force base with a trunk filled with hunting rifles. The guns would not have been discovered but for the vigilance of staff at the civilian Northolt Handling FBO, which insisted on all the required security checks being conducted and requiring that the guns be stowed in the aircraft baggage hold rather than in the cabin.

Since the events of September 11, the Universal Weather & Aviation flight-planning group has been seeking to instill a stronger security culture in its UV Global Network chain of business aircraft ground-handling providers spread through 42 countries. Lex den Herder, the Houston-based group’s senior manager for international network development, told AIN that the main effort has been to raise levels of security awareness generally, rather than issuing a list of specific requirements such as mandatory baggage screening and passenger identification.

However, one specific control Universal does insist on is conducting full background checks on all UV Global Network staff through the U.S. State Department. It now has one person dedicated purely to conducting these checks, in the belief that the integrity of its personnel is a key plank in its defense against international terrorism. Another new security initiative from Universal is to verify the credentials of all ground transportation vendors it uses worldwide.

According to den Herder, U.S. corporate flight departments, in particular, are now showing much more concern about security and there is rising demand for hiring guards to take care of both aircraft and people on overseas trips. He said that while larger corporations tend to have their own security expertise, smaller and medium-sized firms expect more input from flight planning and handling groups for guidance and peace-of-mind.

FBOs Struggle with Security
But the overriding impression that business aviation has by no means slammed the door on terrorism was endorsed by Air Security International (ASI) v-p of operations Charlie LeBlanc. The company is a subsidiary of Houston-based flight-planning group Air Routing International and provides security advice and support to its clients, as well as to those of its major rival, Universal Weather & Aviation.

LeBlanc told AIN that, for the most part, he still sees pre-September 11 security measures in place at FBOs in the U.S. and worldwide. “The chains have really struggled with this issue because it conflicts with their business motives (i.e., providing convenience and flexibility). But, globally, most [FBOs] have just not taken the threat seriously,” he said. ASI clients have complained about allegedly lax security cover even at major business aviation airports such as Paris Le Bourget.

Pointing to the potential threat posed by short-notice executive charter flights, LeBlanc warned that the business aviation community “cannot hide behind the veil of saying that it knows who is flying.” However, he maintained that fractional-ownership programs have generally introduced adequate procedures for checking the identity of those who fly on their owners’ aircraft.

LeBlanc advised that, generally, business aviation needs to implement tighter access and personnel controls, albeit not necessarily mirroring those being used for airline security. In particular, he stressed that the “integrity” of local FBOs and other support staff is vital to security. With this in mind, he urged operators to be as confidential as possible about details of their itinerary, while also putting in place rigorous security controls at their home bases.

That said, LeBlanc reflected that the inherently ad hoc nature of business aviation is something of a protection against terrorism. What he meant by this is that terrorists tend to want to plan every detail of an attack and the unpredictable nature of business aviation makes this quite hard to do.

Speaking to AIN soon after the nightclub bombing in Bali, Indonesia, but before the subsequent terrorist attacks in Mombasa, Kenya, LeBlanc characterized the current world security situation as “a bar fight” in which travelers–and security experts, for that matter–cannot easily know what threat is going to come at them and from where. “This is a new scenario because in the past corporate aviation has been able to deal with specific situations and we [ASI] knew how to evaluate and mitigate the risks operators face,” he commented.

Looking ahead to the possible war in Iraq, LeBlanc found it hard to muster any optimism, predicting a “huge backlash” against Westerners from the Middle East and Far East. He warned that this could all too easily result in a steep decline in all business travel, arguing that in the immediate aftermath of the 1991 Gulf War, the majority of corporate aircraft had been effectively “locked up” for 30 to 60 days and that business aviation activity had taken the best part of a year to recover.

Summary of Main EBAA Security Recommendations

• Access to airside and other restricted areas such as technical and maintenance areas to be controlled at all times to keep out unauthorized people and objects that could be used to commit unlawful acts on aircraft.

• Tamper-proof, photographic IDs to be worn by all FBO personnel.

• Customer crewmembers to be positively identified by checking ID cards against crew list on handling order sheet.

• Increased vigilance to protect unwarranted access to FBO lounges.

• Crewmembers to clearly identify all passengers, with unknown passengers always required to provide proof of identity.

• Vehicles requiring airside access to be fully inspected and issued a temporary pass. All nonessential vehicles to be kept groundside.

• All personnel and vehicle passes to be inspected either visually by guards or electronically.

• Ramps to be adequately lit.

• Special protection required for fuel and communications facilities.

• Predeparture checks required to validate the “authenticity” of passengers and to discover potentially harmful objects. All departing passengers and their hand baggage to be screened.

• When aircraft are unattended, doors and access panels should be closed and sealed with security tape to guard against tampering. Steps should be removed and air bridges withdrawn. Whenever possible, aircraft to be hangared or parked away from security fences in well lit areas.

• Screened baggage to be protected from interference between check-in and loading on the aircraft. Cargo and courier items to be screened.

• FBOs to appoint a security coordinator/trainer to be responsible for maintaining, upgrading and changing security policy and procedures. All employees to be trained and encouraged to challenge anyone not known to them or without proper identification.

• FBOs to ensure that processing and handling of catering supplies are carried out by approved providers and identifiable personnel. Catering orders to be checked to ensure that they do not contain prohibited items and that they have not been tampered with.