In recognition that FBOs can serve as a gateway for human trafficking, the National Air Transportation Association (NATA) is working with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) on training videos for aviation businesses to remain on the alert for such activity. NATA COO and general counsel Tim Obitts discussed those efforts on Tuesday as the association kicked off its 2019 NATA Aviation Leadership Conference. The two-day conference gathered the association’s leadership, who received updates from Capitol Hill, the insurance industry, regulators, industry leaders, and analysts, among others.
Keynoting the opening luncheon was Philip Langford, president, North America, for the International Justice Mission (IJM), which has waged a global battle against trafficking. Langford painted a picture of some 40 million men, women, and children trapped in slavery, whether through forced labor or prostitution, in what amounts to a $150 billion business.
“The brutality is real…It is more vast, more brutal than at any time in history,” Langford told conference attendees. But he also offered a message of hope, saying the activity is more stoppable than ever before, particularly when government scrutiny ramps up and the risks increase for the traffickers. While the vast majority occurs in less developed nations where police and government intervention is minimal, it is a global problem, he said.
DHS already has been working with commercial airports on awareness, and training for human trafficking is a requirement in Part 135. But Obitts worried that not all Part 135 operators are aware of those requirements or might participate unsuspectingly. He also noted that many of these cases might involve piston airplanes, which use small uncontrolled airports in rural areas to transport victims.
IJM is collaborating with the Polaris Project on a mapping initiative to track the paths and activities of trafficking. It also has been working with governments to turn the tide in locations where the police have remained hands-off, or worse, even complicit in trafficking activity, Langford said.
He underscored the importance of those efforts, noting in the Philippines city of Cebu, trafficking dropped 79 percent within four years when government intervention stepped up. Subsequent efforts resulted in a 75 percent drop in Manila. “When the risks go up, [traffickers] get out of the business. They are there to make money, not go to jail,” Langford said.
He noted the lies, threats, and intimidation traffickers use to lure their victims—mostly poor and in desperate situations—into slavery. Langford’s first exposure was in India, initially to save girls from brothels. “My wife and I were swept away by the mission,” he said.
His first case, however, involved a family enslaved at a rice mill. Local authorities initially were uninterested in addressing the issue, but after convincing a local official to go visit the mill, the view changed. There, a man was crumpled on his knees behind barbed wire crying out to the official for help. The rice mill owner would repeatedly stab him with an elongated sewing needle to make him an example. “Now there is no question what the local official’s number one priority is,” Langford said.
He showed other examples of victims, including freed former slaves who had their right hands cut off after an earlier escape attempt. In North America, trafficking is occurring in plain sight, he said, pointing to massage parlors found in strip malls.
His advice to the attendees was just to pay attention to activity that does not seem legitimate and follow instincts. But Langford warned that finding potential victims through airports might be difficult because they can be hard to detect or they might not understand that they are about to step into an enslaved situation.