Over the years, the civil aviation security industry has suffered wave after wave of deadly terrorist attacks, alongside some other serious attempts to breach our security measures, from the downing of a Russian Metrojet flight that departed Sharm el-Sheikh airport (Egypt) on 31 October 2015 to the plot to blow up an Etihad Airways flight that departed Sydney airport (Australia) on 15 July 2017. But since then, if there were attempts to strike airlines or airports, they are only known to the relevant security services, and not to the media or general public.
“…the sophistication of the Sydney plot served to demonstrate just how high the bar must be set…”
So that must raise a professional eyebrow – what is happening? Are we responsible in any way for this sudden decrease in attacks or have terrorist organisations decided to take a break?
The public trusts in governmental authorities, regulators and aviation operators to do their utmost to ensure their safety and prevent terrorist attacks, and thus maintain a pleasant and safe experience in airports and on board planes – this is our goal and our agenda.
Considering the daring nature of recent terrorist attacks, and the attempts, as well as some realistic estimations that the motivation still exists among extremist terror activists, we need to consistently employ self-criticism of our own measures and attitudes. We should also proceed with a ‘change and adapt’ policy according to shifts in threat assessment. As security-supporting technologies and personnel training continue to advance, there is an increasing understanding that experience sharing/consulting is vital between key players in the civil aviation community.
With this in mind, industry leaders should immediately promote several major fields in order to step-up real, visible countermeasures. While efforts in these areas are often considered to be less affordable/achievable/doable/important/convenient, they can significantly enhance deterrence and increase self-confidence in our ability to prevent a renewed wave of terrorism.
• Introducing more physical protection measures and interception/intervention teams on the premises.
Landside Behavioural Detection
• Enhancing efforts in visually reviewing people at public entrances and crowded areas within the airport grounds in order to isolate potential threats/risks and to react as necessary.
Risk Assessment Methodology
• Interviewing passengers prior to checkpoint using well-trained staff. Dedicated Cyber Security Tailoring protection of valuable assets like IT/OT systems in airports and/or aircraft, etc.
• Maintaining high performance in passenger and baggage screening at checkpoints and in hold luggage screening.
This does not mean that we should neglect or overlook other fields that, together with those mentioned above, constitute ‘complete’ security – it just means that perhaps a rearrangement of our priorities is due.
I would like to review practical steps taken by the industry’s leading forces and proffer some avenues yet to be adequately addressed. I will not deal here with war zone airports suffering mortar shelling or car bombs (a subject that deserves an article of its own).
What Have We Been Doing Right Over the Past Year?
Since the wake-up call that some partners received during the spring 2016 attacks on Brussels’ Zaventem Airport (Belgium) and Istanbul’s Atatürk Airport (Turkey), many state/governmental regulators have increased their attention to landside security (without neglecting their focus on passenger security at checkpoints). What is more important is the growing understanding between airport directors that they must review their security plan/programme, not only through the lens of formal standards/regulations, but also by investing in additional security measures such as upgraded physical elements or renewed procedures, updated programmes and better training.
It is evident that security services have increased their focus on potential threats towards international civil aviation, and the sophistication of the Sydney plot served to demonstrate just how high the bar must be set. The importance of being able to ‘push’ relevant real-time information to officers and other law enforcement first responders cannot be emphasised enough; whilst being aware of the need to keep sources anonymous, we do not want to discover in retrospect that we held operational information ‘too close to the chest’.
Some major international airports across the globe took immediate steps to better involve different security stakeholders by employing tighter ‘day-to-day’ coordination, which will surely result in a better reaction in the event of an emergency. Some also took steps to deploy more visible security forces on approach roads, terminal halls or airside.
Better First Responses to Attacks
In recent years we have seen prompter first responses by law enforcement officers, especially in Europe. They are now better briefed, leading to sharper and more effective first reactions1, boosting public confidence and contributing to deterrence. Effective first response can contribute to halting an event, preventing it from deteriorating or continuing to another location.
More Attention Paid to Risk Assessment of Passengers
Over the last couple of years, the industry has been acknowledging and discussing the need to review and interview passengers upon check-in via behavioural detection techniques. This issue received a tail wind from the TSA implementing obligatory interviews for all passengers on direct routes to the US from any airport across the globe. I’m sure that even traditional critics fearing interference with their right to privacy feel more secure boarding those flights and agree that this measure is a rather small and bearable inconvenience. Of course, I must mention that Israeli aviation security has almost five decades of experience in this field.
Where Are Our Weaknesses?
Airports Perimeter Defence
Areas yet to be improved include: overseeing vehicles entering our airports; efficiently supervising vehicles on the terminal approach and/or curb-side; improving our ability to block vehicles ramming into crowds (multiple events in recent years demonstrate a preference for this tactic because the ‘weapon’ is easily acquired and, granted the mindset, easily deployed). In 2018, we have seen a number of serious incidents involving individuals trespassing on runways in vehicles:
• Lyon Airport, France, 10 Sept 2018
• Teterboro Airport, USA, 18 Sept 2018
• Sokoto Airport, Nigeria, 10 Aug 2018
These incidents serve to highlight deficiencies in security and an obvious need to upgrade airports’ abilities to detect and react on the spot (using relevant technologies and manpower) to prevent and intercept different perpetrator scenarios, as was determined in an Associated Press investigation: “Intruders breach U.S. airport fences about every 10 days”2 (2016) and “Man Breaches Security at Atlanta Airport Again”3 (10 July 2018).
Awareness of Cyber Vulnerabilities
Airports should consider investing in better safeguarding of their critical systems (software & hardware, IT/OT) from malicious attacks and hostile take-overs. Even non-critical system breaches can create disorder and mayhem when tampered with. Some airports across the world have recently been victims of cyberattacks. Main transport hubs should consider establishing a cyber security operation centre/data centre (S.O.C/D.C.) on the premises4, or a facility designed to meet their cyber security needs (smaller airports can have a shared centre).
“…airports are still talking about their plans to take steps to upgrade their array, but aren’t doing it at the necessary pace demanded…”
In order to understand how vulnerable your facilities are, it is advisable to have a thorough cyber security array gap analysis by qualified experts who are specialised in aviation facilities.
Unfortunately, some airports are still talking about their plans to take steps to upgrade their array, but aren’t doing it at the necessary pace demanded. This could result in a ‘too little too late’ situation. We all work under resource restrictions, political and public opinion constraints and other local variables – it is our obligation to find proper routes to advance successfully despite these.
What Can We Do Better?
- Reassess current efforts and investments, not according to popular opinion but by following thorough and acting upon risk assessments and professional gap surveys.
- Continue risk assessing each and every passenger – not only on direct flights to the US. In some cases, this may mean getting professional training from experts in how to do it effectively with minimal influence on operational timetables.
- Design your cyber security array according to the unique needs of your airport/airline.
- Technology by itself rarely gives an overall solution to all security problems. Combining it with well-trained and motivated security personnel will produce better results.
Roni Tidhar is the Israel Airports Authority’s Head of International Consulting Services (commercial branch). He has vast experience in civil aviation security and emergency management from his 27 years in Israel’s Ben-Gurion International Airport’s Security Division (in multiple positions) and many years as an El-Al Israel Airlines’ air marshal and Operational Flights Security Manager, in which capacity he worked at dozens of airports across the globe. He is also a member of the Editorial Advisory Board for Aviation Security International and keynote speaker at international conferences.
- 2017: London 22nd March and 7th May, Cambrils (Spain) 20th August 2018: Paris 13th May, Barcelona 20th August, Amsterdam 31st August, etc.
- https://patch.com/georgia/atlanta/man-breaches-security-atlantaairport-again, “The breach at Hartsfield-Jackson comes weeks after a man in his underwear ran onto a tarmac and climbed onto the wing of a plane.”