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Special focus - PASSENGER AND AIRCRAFT SECURITY: Aircraft owners and operators must guard against laxness at insecure airports and complacency 'at home' in Europe
Passenger and aircraft security is a constant concern for the private aviation industry whether it concerns hotspots in the news, like Bangkok recently, other destinations with regular high alert profiles or seemingly safe countries.

Passenger and aircraft security is a constant concern for the private aviation industry whether it concerns hotspots in the news, like Bangkok recently, other destinations with regular high alert profiles or seemingly safe countries. Owners and operators need to assess what precautions need to be taken whether their destinations are short haul in Europe or longer haul to the Middle East or Far East.

Matt Burdette, chief of intelligence for ASI Group, says there is both good and bad news for private charter operators and owners. "The good news in global business aviation is that there remains an increased effort by operators to maintain heightened levels of security that were brought to pre-eminence by the 11 September 2001 attacks. The bad news is that there is an increasing risk of complacency in recognising, evaluating and pre-empting new security concerns to aircraft, crew and passengers. This is of particular relevance to charter brokers and operators who serve an ever-increasing number of potential clients and a wide range of destinations."

But he adds: "Operators and passengers now have greater awareness of potential security issues in the destinations that they fly to - both at the airport and on the ground. Whether travelling by themselves or on company business, passengers should ask the operator or broker to review the security procedures outlined in their oper-ations manual. The thoroughness of that section will typically be more telling than the details as to how seriously the operator or broker considers security. Some good questions for charter passengers to ask ahead of the flight include: 'Does the operator have security services available?' and 'What communication plans are in place for the passengers and crew in an emergency?' Prospective pass-engers should also pay more attention to information security and the possibility that their privacy could be compromised."

Burdette says past high-profile privacy breaches include the release on the internet of a partial itinerary of a major sports celebrity and the electronic "bugging" of a charter flight used by the entertainer Michael Jackson in 2003.

"Passengers, especially business travellers, need to remember that despite the trappings of privacy, charter aircraft and crew are not their own," Burdette warns. "Sensitive documents and electronic devices should always be taken off the aircraft, even for short stays. Business travellers should perform at least some advance due diligence on the charter operator to determine not just its safety history, but also who owns it. It is not inconceivable for someone to be travelling on an aircraft owned by a competitor! If the charter agreement does not specifically include a non-disclosure section obligating the operator/ broker to maintain privacy, then consider setting up a separate agreement. As the sports celebrity's itinerary release showed, it is also worth asking what procedures the operator/broker has in place to control the distribution of passenger names and personal data."

Gabriella Cserei, the ASI Group's intelligence analyst responsible for the northern Africa region, points out: "While much attention has been paid lately to the commercial airline sector, much less scrutiny has been devoted to executive aviation. Despite this lack of focus, the industry faces a number of security risks, especially in high threat destinations. The risk of exposure to local threats - such as political instability, crime and/or terrorism - contributes to a higher threat profile for such locations."

She adds: "These potential dangers are compounded by an often times inadequate level of security at airports in high threat destinations. This combination of factors makes these airports challenging operating environments for executive aviation companies."

The ASI Group, formerly Air Security International, operates as an independent subsidiary after being acquired by the Medex Global Group in May 2008. Medex is one of the oldest and largest independently owned providers of global travel security and medical assistance in North America.

Cserei points out that political instability and terrorism pose concerns for executive aircraft passengers, flight crews and the aircraft themselves. "For example, political developments in Thailand have had a noted effect on security conditions at both of the capital's airports: Bangkok Don Muang international airport and Suvarnabhumi airport. In recent months, social unrest and violent protests have considerably destabilised conditions in Bangkok."

Political unrest has threatened airport operations in the past, such as in November 2008, when protesters stormed the airports, forcing both facilities to shut down for two weeks. Despite the continuation of most aviation operations at both airports during April and May 2010, the unpredictable nature of the protests could once again cause disruptions to flights with little or no warning.

Cserei points out: "Security conditions at Islamabad's Benazir Bhutto international airport (OPRN) in Pakistan are also shaped by local threat factors. Terrorist activity and political instability have plagued Pakistan in recent years, fuelling heightened concerns about aviation safety."

Monitoring systems

"Suspected militants have targeted OPRN in attempted bombings in the past, and warnings of potential threats against the facility continue to emerge," continues Cserei. "Furthermore, political instability has also periodically had some residual affect on airport operations, demonstrating how security incidents outside of the immediate airport vicinity can also compromise security for passengers and flight crews. Most recently, in March 2010, protesters blocked roads to the airport for several hours."

Inadequate security measures at airports heighten the risk of operating flights in high-threat destinations. Cserei says: "The airports in both Bangkok and Islamabad have problems with corruption and substandard monitoring systems. At Mumbai's Chhatrapati Shivaji (VABB) facility concerns are a primary threat. Although attempts have been made to secure the facility following the November 2008 terrorist attacks in the city, a number of security problems plague the airport, including corruption, poor training and management of personnel, as well as substandard facility security measures." For example, she says, general aviation parking areas are not separately fenced or well lit, and security monitoring of various operational areas is not always adequate.

She adds: "Airport authorities vet contractors who have access to secure areas, though the contractors' actual employees seldom undergo background checks and have been implicated in acts of vandalism against private aircraft. In addition, general terrorism concerns in India greatly increase the overall threat profile of the airport."

Similarly, Murtala Muhammed airport in Lagos, Nigeria, another high risk destination, is also primarily characterised by substandard facility security. "Safety shortcomings have been prominent at this facility for years. While some security improvements have been made, including the installation of state-of-the-art security scanners, significant concerns remain. An incident in April 2010 in which a woman reportedly breached security and boarded a flight without a ticket demonstrated the continuing concerns at this facility," Cserei says. "Corruption and scams are also problematic at this facility. Local police and military personnel regularly solicit money, and con artists posing as immigration officers have also been known to extort money from travellers and aviation personnel. Guards and criminals outside the airport are known to bully passengers, demanding money and using intimidation tactics to extort 'fees'."

As with conditions at VABB, the secondary concerns of terrorism and local instability, combined with primary facility security concerns, make this location a higher threat to corporate air travel, Cserei warns.

Regardless of what primary security threat affects a given location, it is generally a combination of concerns that elevate a destination into the high risk category. "As these destinations highlight, security measures are often inadequate at these airports," she points out. "The executive aviation industry must therefore approach such high risk destinations in just as stringent, if not even more elevated manner, as the commercial sector."

She warns that flight operators must take steps to ensure security of both passengers and equipment and obtain detailed security assessments of destinations and airports in advance of departure.

There needs to be a strong focus on ensuring aircraft are safe. Sri Luckshmanan, security services manager Universal Weather and Aviation, says: "When people go to a shopping centre, they typically try to park in a secure area, make sure the doors to the car are locked, set the alarm, and take their keys with them. But sometimes those same individuals travel to a foreign country and leave multi-million dollar aircraft unattended for several days."

Luckshmanan adds: "When you think about aircraft security like that, it kind of puts things in perspective. I think operators sometimes assume that airports are so secure these days that their aircraft will be safe and security is unnecessary.

"For example, I've heard clients ask: 'What is the point of having security personnel protect the aircraft if they are unarmed?' This is a requirement at some airports. Just a few years ago, however, an unarmed security guard was able to identify the tail number of an aircraft that clipped the wing of the aircraft he was guarding. Without his eye-witness account, the owner of the aircraft would have had to pay for all of the expensive repairs."

Security tape

Another client once declined aircraft security and elected to use security tape as an alternative.

Luckshmanan says: "When they arrived for departure the next morning, the tape had been tampered with, requiring a time consuming thorough check of the aircraft to ensure no bombs or explosives or other threats had been planted. I've also had clients that have had large amounts of cash stolen from aircraft that were thought to be in secure airports. This kind of thing can and does happen."

Luckshmanan says the key is to understand the security risks of each airport that the private or charter aircraft will be using. "Universal can supply its clients with detailed information about each airport and then let them make their decision on whether to hire security for their aircraft. It is important to take a number of issues into consideration such as the amount of lighting in the area the aircraft will be parked, the quality of the fencing surrounding the airport, the airport's policy on who can enter the parking area. We have the information to provide a recommendation to clients on all of these issues and can provide additional resources to ensure clients have all the information they need."

Simon Wagstaff, founder and md of the Asian headquartered ASA Group, says that local knowledge and language skills help ensure that clients do not get into trouble at hotspots. ASA started out by providing security services in the Far East in countries including Thailand, the Philippines and Indonesia. It has broadened its sphere of operations to include countries such as Japan and Korea and is diversifying its private aviation services.

Wagstaff says: "We recently had a client who wanted to ski in Japan. He needed a bodyguard who spoke English and Japanese and was a top skier. We provided what he needed. ASA gets all kinds of requests and these include those with exceptional requirements such as a bi-lingual skiing instructor with first-class security qualifications.

"There are numerous scenarios ranging from the ordinary to the very unusual and much might depend on whether the client is travelling alone on business or incorporating a holiday with his family. Generally, however, for many people it is largely a question of applying common sense and adhering to simple rules. It is always advisable in a foreign country to keep a low profile and not attract any undue attention. In some cases we might advise the client to use a lower profile airport or a hotel with particularly appropriate security procedures."

ASA, which has a base in Bangkok, was well-placed to help clients worried by confrontations in the Thai capital. They were given round-the-clock emergency telephone numbers to call ASA if they needed help.

Wagstaff points out that, although headquartered in the Far East, ASA operates worldwide with its core operational focus stretching from Turkey in the west to Japan and China in the east. "China is an interesting market with a great deal of potential and it is one that requires a large amount of specialist local knowledge," Wagstaff says. ASA receives enquiries from as far afield as Los Angeles and New York in the United States with Europe another source of business. "There is a natural fit between travel and security," Wagstaff explains.

ASA, which is launching a managed aircraft division, advises clients to protect their assets as well as their person. "There are some airports where we recommend security measures that are in addition to those provided by the airport," says Wagstaff. "It is obviously worth ensuring that a multi-million dollar private jet is protected from damage and any intrusions that might affect the client. ASA employs its own personnel but there are obviously situations where local expertise and manpower is also required. In those instances we use firms we know and trust and also employ our own personnel to check and ensure on the spot that the security is at all times to the standards we require."

Security contracts

ASA will, of course, ensure that its managed fleet benefits from its security expertise. "The first two managed aircraft in the fleet will be a Global Express XRS and a Learjet. We are also looking at developing provision of full FBO services in locations that will complement our private aviation and security services."

Wagstaff says that 2009 was tough but that business has picked up in 2010. ASA opened a new office in Singapore in January and has won a two-year security contract there.

Charter operators, especially those with a global remit, frequently review security concerns. London Executive Aviation (LEA) points out that, under the company's worldwide AOC, it flies 22 aircraft through seven fleet types of business jet, from the Citation Mustang to the Falcon 900EX.

George Galanopoulos, md, says: "Of course, we consider all passengers to be vips and we take security very seriously at all times. But if passengers wish or need to make specific security arrangements, they will normally take responsibility for the matter themselves."

Galanopoulos explains that the passenger's security team will ordinarily therefore contact LEA's operations department ahead of the flight and discuss risks and arrangements 'down route'. He adds: "If we are flying to a particularly high-risk or hostile destination, we will of course take comprehensive care of security for our crews."

Galanopoulos says: "The aircraft can be thoroughly checked before and during the flight. We can provide engineers on request for very detailed checks. Security seals can be used when the aircraft is parked at an airport that is not secured or at the customer's request. We can also arrange for private security to guard the aircraft if necessary."

In terms of costs, Galanopoulos says: "Naturally, a high level of security is provided as part of our service, free of charge. The customer then bears the cost of any specific further arrangements."

Biological terrorism

Companies that provide such arrangements vary from security firms to those who specialise in guarding against specific threats such as biological terrorism. Tri-Air Developments Ltd has launched a new decontamination unit to offer 24/7 security protection for vip, security, customs and other airport building environments from airborne and surface pathogenic viruses and bacteria. Gideon Davenport, ceo, says: "This is to counter the threat of biological terrorism and the spread of pandemic illness, such as H5N1 and H1N1."

The new air purifier can destroy a wide range of contaminants in minutes, according to its British inventors who cite tests by the UK's Health Protection Agency. Davenport adds: "The first production unit is a wall-mounted serviced device, measuring 600 x 300 x 280 mm. It can decontaminate and protect a space of from 250m3 up to 450m3. A smaller product suitable for areas up to 50m3, such as within an office, will be available later this year."

Tri-Air is currently seeking distribution partners. Davenport says: "The technology is an air-purification, rather than a filtration process, patented in 38 jurisdictions around the world. The unit uniquely combines three separate methods of decontamination - non-thermal plasma, ultraviolet catalysis and hydroxyl radical production. This creates a fresh air environment that is lethal to viruses and bacteria, including 'flu viruses and MRSA, and continually decontaminates by a process of 'advanced oxidation'."

He points out: "Airports and other transit areas are, by their very nature, particularly vulnerable to the threat of viruses and bacteria: when contamination occurs, travellers and other customers will stop flying in and business ceases, at least until the threat clears."

Due diligence

For charter operators and passengers, though, much it is a question of whether extra security is need to ensure personal and aircraft safety. ASI says its guards are selected with extreme due diligence and must follow strict orders when guarding aircraft. "Guards are properly uniformed and must adhere to high standards. ASI's intelligence department also reviews the security conditions of international airports. Through the intelligence department, airport security briefings are available to assist clients in making their security decisions," the company says. ASI's Burdette says there is no doubt that charter operators in particular, and business aviation in general, are increasingly aware of their obligations and are acting to improve their security posture. However he warns: "While they are under the obligation to continually vet their own procedures, it is also incumbent upon passengers to ensure that their privacy and personal information are kept secure, partic-ularly when using charter aircraft." He advises: "Ask questions and plan ahead. You'll be glad you did."

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