Securing Inflight Supplies: time to bid farewell to the plastic seal

In business as in life we have constantly to review where we are, what we are doing and respond to innovation and development as and when appropriate. The priorities of safety and security require that ALL involved in the complex process of ensuring an aircraft is considered ‘secure’ and safe to depart adhere to the highest levels of discipline and process control.

In all that we do there is an inescapable need for people who have to be trusted. A significant number of people have an input into to the preparation of ‘the supplies’ to be uploaded onto an aircraft (containers, carts, boxes, ULDs, blankets, newspapers, etc.), so it surely follows that having arrived at the position where the ‘goods’ are deemed secure and suitable for loading and transportation, the aircraft must also be ‘secured’ and operated in an effective, interference-deterring manner.

Decades of sophisticated technological development have enabled us to screen most items going onboard an aircraft. Still, a key vulnerability, which may offer the opportunity to introduce prohibited items, is during the transportation of catering and duty free/onboard supplies from their packing stations to the aircraft.

Who would have thought that the industry would still be relying on plastic and metal seals, along with easy-to-compromise padlocks? Is it because there has never been an alternative that was proven to be credible, cost-effective and that would enhance existing security protocols and processes? Whatever the container, be it a cart/trolley, canister or ULD, the opportunity to remove an item of value has been exploited by organised groups and lone individuals along the supply chain.

This is a global issue rather than a local one. A recent survey conducted by the ‘Unite Here’ union in America was published by USA Today on the 9th September 2014 reporting that 1 in 4 (25%) of airline catering employees said unauthorised people could get into their kitchens and transport vehicles, and the same number warned that someone could put contraband on a food cart. This report was also submitted to the Transport Security Administration emphasising the concern of the union members.

Over the years certain initiatives have been trialled to address these problems, adding an extra level of security in an effort to offer a visible deterrent against interference. For example, STI Airline Sales & Services Ltd. (STI) – who have specialised in the area of duty free security for international airlines, catering companies and duty free/onboard retail concessionaires since 1998 – pioneered methods of added security as a defence to this serious and costly issue.

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