In bizav security, the devil’s in the details

Aviation International News » September 2001
May 8, 2008, 5:31 AM

“When it comes to executive protection in an aviation environment, the most common problem is a breakdown in communication between security personnel and the flight department,” Greg Light told AIN. Light, an instructor for the Executive Protection Institute, teaches a corporate aircraft security seminar.

The two-day seminar includes such subjects as common threats to corporate aviation; drug and smuggling tolerances; operational security of airport services; passenger handling for executive safety; sabotage; aircraft/airport search techniques for drugs and bombs (see box on this page); technical security systems; crisis management; and sky-jacking.

“Flight crews need to understand executive protection specialists are responsible for protecting their principal from everything from embarrassment to assassination,” Light said. “If you rely on one person for security, eventually it will break down. You have to work as a team.” He suggested that team building include cross training in mutually beneficial areas ranging from emergency medical care to aircraft security.

Light recommends that operators install alarm systems in corporate aircraft. State-of-the-art security systems now have the capability of protecting all parts of an aircraft, including access doors, baggage areas, the cockpit and the cabin. If an area is violated, the system can function as a silent alarm, notifying the flight crew, security personnel or others by pager and/or telephone. “It never ceases to amaze me that a company will spend millions of dollars buying a jet then balk at a sophisticated $100,000 alarm system,” Light said.

One area that Light said is as important as any other is crew awareness. “It’s critical for a crew to get a security briefing about their destination,” he explained. “They should get crime reports for wherever they’re going, including from the hotel, local law enforcement or other security personnel. And don’t forget to ask where there’s a convenient and secure ATM in the event someone needs to get cash.”

Safety Principles
According to Dr. Richard Kobetz, the Berryville, Va.-based institute’s executive director, the objectives of the course are to protect aircraft, related equipment and facilities against intentional or accidental harm; to prevent acts which would be harmful to employees and non-employees riding on corporate aircraft; and to prevent possible theft or hijacking of corporate aircraft. Kobetz said flight departments could significantly assist in achieving those security objectives by following two important principles.

“It is important to minimize to the greatest extent possible the opportunities for unauthorized persons to have access to aircraft, maintenance, fuel facilities and hangar areas,” he explained. “The second key principle is to keep flight information, such as times, dates, destinations, flight personnel, passengers and trip duration, confidential. Only those having a need to know and an eligibility to receive such information should have access to it.” One of the easiest ways of obtaining such information without permission is to simply visit a typical flight-operations office.

Kobetz pointed out that the desks in flight offices are strewn with information about company flights. He advocates removing all letters, reports and documents from the tops of desks, files and work areas, especially after hours when there’s no one there to monitor who comes-and-goes. “Place everything in lockable desks or files and be sure to lock them,” he said. “And why does every flight department have a giant board carefully documenting all that information? If you have to have one, be sure it is located in a place that is out of view of visiting personnel.” He also suggested that flight crews specify that FBOs not put flight information up on similar boards.

In 1975 the author was part of a flight crew that ferried a Jet Commander from Paris to Los Angeles. The aircraft had been purchased from a company that sold it before notifying the flight crew they were going to shut down the flight department. The jet was picked up amid hard feelings, and we subsequently discovered that the wheel bolts had been cut short and replaced. Only one or two threads held the nuts in place. Had we not intentionally “kicked the tires” on preflight, causing one nut to pop off, the tires certainly would have separated on takeoff roll.

Thinking back to that incident I was interested in Kobetz’s opinion on how to conduct a security preflight. His first principle is to always conduct a security walkaround inspection before flying an aircraft that has been left unattended. He said that it can often be the little things that can cause the greatest problem while making it look accidental.

“When performing a security inspection be sure to check the obvious things, such as the oil caps for tightness, the engine and baggage compartments for sabotage and suspicious devices and give wiring a good looking over, too,” he explained. “Definitely look between jet engine vanes for foreign material, such as nuts and bolts. Also check the wheels to determine if cotter pins have been tampered with, tires for punctures and bolt tampering and control hinges for tampering.”

Kobetz stressed there should always be a crewmember present when the aircraft is being serviced. He recommended the use of self-destruct seals with a Mylar tape overlay across all access panels, fuel and oil caps, doors and windows. Any tampering will break the seal and be easily recognized during a preflight inspection.

Light addressed the issue of being armed in an aircraft. “One thing you really don’t want to do is have Mace, OC spray [oleo capsicum] or any other aerosol deterrents in a pressurized aircraft,” he said. He stressed matching every piece of luggage to a boarding passenger and even going so far as to have the passengers stow hand-carried items in non-accessible baggage.

“The idea is to keep anything that could be used as a weapon out of the aircraft and that certainly includes firearms. First of all, if you have a firearm onboard while flying around the country you’re probably going to end up violating some state laws. But aside from that, think about it, do you really want anyone to have a gun at 35,000 feet?”

Aircraft Searching Procedures

• Evacuate the surrounding area and remove personal property.

• Check the immediate area around the aircraft for bombs, wires or evidence of tampering.

• Tow the aircraft to a safe distance or designated space.

• Starting on the outside, work toward the airplane’s interior.

• Begin searching at the lowest levels and work up.

• Remove freight and baggage and search cargo areas.

• Check out restrooms and lounges.

• Be alert for small charges placed to rupture the pressure hull or cut control cables. The control cables usually run underneath the center aisle.

• Give special attention to refuse disposal containers, check food preparation and service areas.

• Search large cabin areas in at least two sweeps.

• Check the flight deck.

• Simultaneously, search the baggage and freight in a safe area under the supervision of aircraft personnel. If passengers are asked to come forward to identify and open the baggage for inspection, it may be possible to quickly focus in on unclaimed baggage.

• Be cautious, suspicious and thorough. When possible, the search should be done by law enforcement personnel or a security professional.

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