Seminar focuses on realistic security threat

 - April 23, 2008, 11:30 AM

“Know your enemy,” Dr. Richard Kobetz, executive director of the Executive Protection Institute, told attendees at a two-day corporate aircraft security seminar. “Due to recent events we find ourselves focused on a very specific type of terrorist, but in reality terrorists come in all shapes and sizes and their motivations and objectives are many and varied.” When it comes to the flight department radicals all share one common goal–to take control of the aircraft.

“Aircraft are particularly attractive targets for terrorists because they are valuable, visible and vulnerable,” Kobetz told AIN. “Their value offers the prospect of placing them in jeopardy for bargaining purposes. Their visibility makes them attractive symbolic targets. Their inherent vulnerability makes them difficult to protect from those who seek to do them harm. An aircraft can be used as a bargaining chip, a means of transport and a missile.”

The idea of using an aircraft as a missile is hardly new. According to Kobetz, it has been a subject actively discussed by security people for many years. “Those who say about September 11, ‘Who would have thought…’ should have done their homework,” he said. He offered a 1983 article in a security trade publication that specifically warns about how aircraft could be used as guided missiles. In it the author pointed out the threat had been real for many years and noted that the Israelis were so concerned about the possibility that they shot down a Libyan airliner that had made an unauthorized incursion into Israeli airspace.

“I think there will be some fear in the heartland as a result of tampering with aircraft that have less than proper security measures by putting explosive devices on board or taking them over and using them like missiles,” Kobetz said. “We haven’t seen an end to this. It’s not the amount of damage that matters to them–it’s the creation of fear. Even a small aircraft can create fear in the hearts and minds of people.

“Corporate aviation security is still low. I don’t think most [operators] have gotten it yet,” he stressed. “Terrorism has been exported to the United States. From now on you have to be seriously conscious about such issues as who’s servicing your airplane, who has access to it when it is left unattended and other similar issues.” He related incidents of aircraft and hangars that have security sensors and devices installed that are never turned on.

“Sometimes companies have security systems, but for some unimaginable reason they don’t bother to activate them,” he said. “Be realistic, most private airports are totally accessible to anyone with a desire to get to an aircraft. A fence and even a security guard at the gate aren’t adequate. I understand that aircraft owners are in business and need access to their aircraft, but it’s time to focus on security issues. Traditionally we wait until we have a problem before implementing methods of preventing it. Well, we’ve had the problem; it’s time to take security seriously.”

Kobetz said demand for the seminar by security personnel prompted two additional sessions since last year, but that the number of flight crews attending has decreased. “This course would definitely benefit flight crews,” he said. “Although pilots are always in charge of the aircraft, they are often not involved in corporate security planning. That’s a major mistake because no one understands the aircraft as well as the flight crew.”

Kobetz’s Berryville, Va.-based Executive Protection Institute ( offers an in-residence, seven-day program that trains individuals to be professional bodyguards and security consultants. The institute also offers several shorter seminars around the U.S. on various security subjects.

Have a Plan
Assisting Kobetz in the seminar was Randall Biglow, president of Protection Design of Reno, Nev. Biglow explained that every company should have a corporate security plan (CSP), and those with aircraft should incorporate it into the operation of that aircraft. “It is also important that the aircraft be an integral part of a company’s crisis management plan (CMP),” he said. “The aircraft can be an important asset during a company crisis. Unfortunately, many corporations don’t even consider their aircraft when developing CSPs and CMPs.”

Kobetz offered his thoughts on how best to avoid being hijacked. “The best protection comes from no one wanting to harm you or your interests because it never occurred to them, they couldn’t find you or it was just too much bother,” he said. “Unless they are focused specifically on your aircraft, the best last line of defense is target hardening. It usually has the effect of driving the assailant to seek a softer target.”

Target hardening consists of two fundamental principles. First, minimize the opportunity for unauthorized persons to have access to aircraft, maintenance, fuel facilities and hangar areas. Second, keep flight information, such as times, dates, destinations, flight personnel, passengers and duration, confidential. Distribute it only to those with a need to know and an eligibility to receive such information.

Kobetz stressed attention to detail and he pointed out frequently overlooked ideas: “Remove letters, reports and documents from the tops of desks, files and work areas where passersby can quickly get information at a glance. And have you ever noticed how the typical flight-scheduling board is visible to anyone walking by the flight office?”

Biglow also asked, “Given the realities of today, do you really want a corporate logo or even a U.S. flag on your aircraft anymore? I don’t think so. Be as low profile as possible, especially if you happen to have a negative corporate image for some reason, such as shutting down a plant somewhere. Your company logo could make you a target. It’s the same with a U.S. flag in some anti-U.S. countries.”

Biglow explained that the nature of aircraft ownership also affects security, suggesting that privately owned and maintained aircraft are easier to maintain control over, while fractional ownership and charter aircraft come with no guarantees regarding security. “The aircraft you charter today could have been chartered by a rock group yesterday,” he said. “Can you imagine the potential problems that might arise if you are singled out for a drug search at some airport? Let’s face it, rock groups use drugs and they often store them in every nook and cranny on an airplane. Do you really want to be the next person using that aircraft?”

Biglow recommended the FAA’s Security guidelines for corporate and general aviation. It covers basic aircraft-protection measures, home-base security considerations, remain-over-night airport considerations, in-flight security and law-enforcement considerations and guidelines for international travel. “When traveling, know your FBOs,” he said. “Discuss security needs with them before arrival. Every flight department should develop an FBO checklist to be used in advance.” 

With respect to being hijacked, Biglow stressed, “The role of the pilot is to fly the airplane. To get it up and get it down. Protecting the crew is second only to protecting the principal,” he said. “Without the crew the principal doesn’t get home. Do we really want the flight crew to be an airborne fighting force? That’s a job better left to a protection specialist, someone who’s trained to handle any emergency that might come up.”

Kobetz agreed: “Right after September 11 airline cabin attendants started implementing their own defensive measures. They stepped on board the aircraft and started making very hot coffee with the intent they would throw the scalding liquid into the face of any belligerent. I think cabin crews should be taught pressure-point nerve strikes and how to defend themselves, but I’m not so sure about having firearms and other devices on board.”

While Kobetz stopped short of condemning the idea of arming commercial or corporate flight crews with guns, he stressed he has concerns with the idea. “My problem with it is adequate training and focus. It isn’t about having the firearm; it is about someone’s psychological ability and proper training to use it at the right time. The firearm isn’t the problem; it’s when it leaves the holster that the problems occur. Everyone thinks they are competent with a firearm–‘How difficult can it be?’ they think–but that’s simply not the case.”

Kobetz has issues with any weapon in such close quarters. “I question the use of Tasers, gas, stun guns and firearms in a closed, compact area such as an aircraft. I’m not so sure that’s a good environment. You’re better off with proper prevention, and if you need that sort of coverage then have a professional in the back of the aircraft.”  
Kobetz recommends that flight departments have a detailed aircraft security search checklist that can be used as a guideline for preflight inspection, depending upon the perceived level of threat. He pointed out that a quarter-pound of C-4 explosive, will “take out an aircraft and its occupants.”

FAA Security Guidelines for Corporate and General Aviation

1. Store aircraft in a locked or guarded hangar.
2. Use such devices as anti-tampering tape on doors, windows, ports, inspection plates and so on.
3. Change aircraft manufacturer’s locks to high quality, professionally installed locks.
4. All avionics and removable items in the aircraft should be marked for positive identification.
5. Non-installed items of value or unusual interest should not be stored in the aircraft when unattended.
6. A thorough inventory of the contents of the aircraft, including serial numbers and other identifying data, should be maintained on file at its home base.
7. Consider installing anti-theft devices such as alarms or removable wheel locks.
8. Corporate logos and product or organizational identification media are not recommended.
9. Aircraft parked on the ramp should always be parked in a well illuminated area and away from perimeter gates and fencing.
10. Positive identification of all passengers is a must.
11. Match all bags to boarding passengers and never leave baggage unattended.
12. Ensure any cargo loaded on the aircraft is received from a known source and has been authorized by the flight department.
13. Procedures should be established for the search of passengers, baggage and packages or cargo in the event of the receipt of threats or other questionable circumstances.

14. All people working on the aircraft should be positively identified.

15. The preflight inspection should include efforts to detect foreign objects and evidence of tampering.

16. Crew vigilance should be heightened while the aircraft is being re-fueled by persons representing a company that does not normally do business with the flight department.

17. Once engines are started, be suspicious of any attempts to delay, stop or otherwise impede the departure from other than ATC.