A Personal View expressed by Jonathan Joohyung Lee

A Personal View expressed by Jonathan Joohyung Lee

I have worked in aviation security within the Asian region for more than 24 years, and during this time I have had the chance to visit many countries and airports in the region. What I have learnt is that, in my experience, there are no perfect security measures or systems in the aviation industry. The most important and fundamental element is to protect civil aviation from acts of unlawful interference, and, to do so, you must understand the real threats and risks. Without appreciating the threats and risks in aviation, suitable measures are never prepared effectively.

Jim Marriott, the International Civil Aviation Organization’s (ICAO) former Deputy Director, Aviation Security and Facilitation, said in an ICAO journal interview, “The challenge for aviation security is that aviation security threats today continue to evolve. Our task is to anticipate those future threats and get out ahead of them”. This means ICAO also knows how critical it is to share information, which is a basic factor for developing effective security measures.

ICAO realised the importance of risk assessment back in 2001 and has since included many risk assessment requirements in the various amendments to Annex 17. Recently, in the Asian region, ICAO has conducted numerous seminars and workshops on security threats and risks assessment. I was fortunate enough to have the chance to participate in the ICAO risk assessment workshop held in Seoul, South Korea in September 2018. I learned a lot about how to manage aviation security threats and risks. Also, I found out the importance of threat information sharing; the main point being that without pertinent threat information from authorities, specific risk assessments cannot be properly conducted at all.

Since the workshop, risk assessment has been the main focus of my research. In my thorough study on the subject, I realised there are many methodologies for risk assessment. ICAO, Airports Council International (ACI) and International Air Transport Association (IATA) training introduce different methodologies to assess threats and risks in aviation. Indeed, different techniques are used to determine the threats and risks at each airport.

Jonathan Joohyung Lee

I am not suggesting that risk assessment methodologies worldwide should be standardised. However, I am emphasising the importance of information sharing of threats and risks.

In reality, due to sensitivity of the information, most airports in this region are not well informed in terms of aviation security threat and risk intelligence. Also, in some countries, only the government agencies concerned hold aviation threat related intelligence, and do not share such information in a timely and effective manner. So, it is not feasible for the industry to prepare countermeasures or mitigation measures to respond to imminent threats.

We should not forget the lesson from the Pan Am incident which occurred in 1988. It is well known that one of the reasons the bombing of Pan Am succeeded was due to the lack of threat and risk information sharing between the government agencies and industries. Also, many AVSEC experts argue that had there been proper information sharing systems in place, the 9/11 incident could have been prevented. I totally agree with this.

…we need to be provided with intelligence regarding the nature of the threat we are up against…

In the Asia region, it is not easy for governments and industries to talk and share sensitive information with each other. Sometimes governments do not trust their civilian operators to adequately guard sensitive intelligence. That is why most airline operators do not have enough threat information, which is normally handled by the intelligence organisations.

Experienced AVSEC professionals understand that terrorists consistently develop new techniques and methods to achieve their ultimate goal, and keep changing their tactics to hit their target successfully. When I reviewed aviation terrorism history, I found out that the first aviation terrorists used firearms. However, gradually they have changed their tools to normal bombs, shoe bombs, liquid bombs, underwear bombs and, more recently, laptop bombs. They are even trying to use chemical or biological weapons to attack the aviation industry. Recently, the US government warned that terrorists are trying to use powder-based weapons to attack civil aviation.

To develop preventive measures against these types of evolving threats, I strongly believe we need to be provided with intelligence regarding the nature of the threat we are up against. This can be achieved by developing proper communication channels for threat and risk information within the organisations and industries concerned. By developing a proper, real-time information sharing system, we will be better equipped to effectively and efficiently counter acts of unlawful interference.

The good news is that ICAO has recognised the importance of information sharing and has adopted a new requirement on security information sharing in its Amendment 16 to Annex 17, which became effective on 16 November 2018.


Jonathan Joohyung Lee is Deputy Security Director, Incheon International Airport, Republic of Korea. He has been working in the aviation security field for more than 24 years, is a member of ACI WSSC and RASC, and is an ICAO USAP-CMA auditor. Contact: jjlee@airport.kr