The multitude of evolving aviation threats are often challenging to confront and almost always result in operational problems.
The most notable of those risks are :
(1) Flights operating over, around, or adjacent airspace with conflict zones.
(2) Civil unrest impacting aircrew during their layovers away from their home base,
(3) Terrorism, non-State actors and lone-wolf incidents compromising security
(4) “Insider threats”, also known as “known insiders”, presenting potential internal risks to air carriers
(5) Human trafficking, inadequately documented travelers, contraband smuggling are other causes for concern due to their various degrees of risk.
1 – Overflying conflict zones
Parts of the Middle East, Asia, North Africa, the Horn of Africa, Latin America, Southern Europe, and East Asia are under either flight operations restriction or prohibition by numerous States. Parts of these regions are considered conflict zones by some States. Flight operations are either restricted to certain altitudes, airways, or completely prohibited.
Beyond these regions, there are several other areas in East Asia, the Indian Sub-Continent, and Middle East where geopolitical tensions have raised the overflight risks due to the escalation of hostilities. This can be extremely limiting and commercially challenging to air carriers. Moreover, this adds significant pressure on airlines’ security divisions who assess overflight risks.
“…concerns persist over inadequate government intelligence sharing and a reluctance by States involved in conflict to divulge threat information or sacrifice overflight charges by closing their airspace…”
ICAO Annex 17 requires States to share threat information with one another. This intelligence is designed to help States protect their national interest. This by advising their air carriers, through their National Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) about any specific risks or evolving aviation threats.
Air carriers will then use this intelligence when conducting their risk assessments. Different States often propose different countermeasures and mitigation recommendations for the same areas being assessed.
The Dutch Safety Board (DSB) recently highlighted that States do not sufficiently share threat information. Concerns persist over inadequate government intelligence sharing and a reluctance by States involved in conflict to divulge threat information.
This represents a great challenge to the aviation community and further asserts the need for partnering with reliable security information.
Based on the current political dynamics, this will inherently continue to place added pressure and ultimate responsibility on airline’s security division while assessing overflight risks.
2 – Civil unrest impacting flight and cabin crew and airport operations
Over the past 12 months, numerous cities across the world are witnessing outbursts of civil unrest conducting through a variety of means protests, demonstrations, and strikes. Some of the unrest resulted in fatal confrontations between protester(s) and local security forces.
Civil unrest has direct and indirect implications for air carriers often impacted by civil unrest. This is often resulting in cease of operations or adverse travel safety situations.
3 – Terrorism – non-state actors, and lone-wolf incidents compromising air security
Various groups, as well as individuals inspired by various terrorist ideologies, continue to operate and pose significant evolving aviation threats to air carriers’ security.
Considering the continued existence of the actors noted above, as well as their intent and capabilities, further attempts to exploit States’ vulnerabilities due to their modest or immature security infrastructure is assessed as highly likely in the near to mid-term.
4 – Insider threat presenting potential risks to air carriers
Company employees or contractor have access to sensitive facilities or systems that can directly harm to the organisation.
In recent incidents, an American Airlines mechanic was charged for sabotage of a plane’s navigation aids in July 2019 over contractual dispute directly impacting the airlines and the airport.
Another example includes a Horizon Air ground services agent. With no flying experience or qualifications the agent took unauthorized control of a plane from Seattle–Tacoma International Airport and flew it into the ground in August 2018.
These cases raised serious concerns over the mental health screening of aviation employees performing critical safety and security related functions.
These examples illustrate the importance of developing and maintaining an effective insider threat policy, supported by various internal stakeholders and, where necessary, external partners and law enforcement authorities. Thus, management, and the sharing, of insider threat working practice is expected to evolve and yield positive outcomes.
5 – Human trafficking, inadequately documented travelers, smuggling of drugs and other contraband
The return of foreign fighters from combat zones to either their home country or a third country (some of which feature on different watch-lists) means that some travelers revert to the use of false identity in order to evade airlines and States’ immigration systems.
Regional economic and political situations are motivating factor for certain travelers to migrate to their destination of choice. Smugglers of narcotics and other contraband became increasingly creative in their transportation methods and regularly adjust their tactics to evade security systems. The exploitation of individuals suffering from economic hardship is additionally becoming more commonplace.
If not managed appropriately, the above can leave air carriers facing serious operational risks as well as potential fines.
It is crucial for airlines to understand geographical trouble-spots and to be aware of malicious actors who operate on certain routes so they can take effective countermeasures to these persistent threats.
Notwithstanding points (2) and (3) above, and as global economic uncertainties continue, this evolving aviation threats will continue to present a great challenge to air carriers over the mid- and long-term.
To manage the above risks and threats effectively, the next decade in aviation security requires meaningful collaboration, quality and reliable information sharing. And most importantly a close working relationship amongst air carriers, aviation and non-aviation authorities. Only then will the industry begin to achieve the desired outcomes.
Sources : Aviation Security International Magazine
(1) Hany Bakr is MedAire’s Aviation Security Director for Europe, the Middle East, & Africa. Hany has more than 20 years’ experience as an aviation and security professional. Prior to joining MedAire, Hany was Acting VP Group Security for Qatar Airways Group. Chairman of the oneworld Alliance Security Group, the Arab Air Carriers’ Organization (AACO) Security Intelligence Task Force, the Qatar Airways Security Risks, Threats & Security Action Groups and a member of the International Air Transport Association (IATA) Security Group.