Security Tips for Flying Private Jets in Africa

Security protocols vary widely across the African continent. How can private airplane owners and operators optimize their own safety measures to counteract the varying threats to their operations? Jane Stanbury gets tips from the experts…

Jane Stanbury  |  30th August 2022
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Jane Stanbury
Jane Stanbury

Jane has over 30 years’ professional experience working in the media, communications, Business...

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Cessna Citation Jet flies over airport perimeter security fence

Heightened security represents one of the significant benefits of Business Aviation. Yet in Africa, which has a burgeoning Business Aviation sector, the security situation is incredibly varied. What are the main security threats that are likely to occur, and how can African operators mitigate them?

Risk monitoring and pre-planning represent core components for scheduling flights, and just as elsewhere, operating in Africa requires a thorough security evaluation. So, what security considerations should owners and operators review when flying to or within Africa?

Statistics about known incidents are collated and analyzed by Osprey Flight Services, a provider of systematic risk management solutions, from pre-planning to touch-down. These demonstrate the shifting threat landscape.

For example, in the second quarter (Q2) of 2022, Osprey alerts highlighted a disparate set of reports, including:

  • Narcotics, wildlife, and migrant smuggling;
  • Insurgent and terrorist activity, which, while not necessarily impacting airports directly, can affect the security in the area;
  • Social unrest, often related to elections;
  • Pockets of conflict flaring up; and
  • The unpredictability of COVID as infection rates waxed and waned affecting border access.

Airport incidents compound these macro-events. Fred Kiige, UAS Regional Manager for East Africa, confirms that operators should be aware of “theft and pilferage of baggage and cargo, potential stowaways, and the frequent movement of contraband. People will use all means to move illegal items through airports.”

Kiige also notes that some city airports have been enveloped in construction developments, especially dense residential buildings. This can compromise security, especially if fences are not adequately secured to deter intruders.

At airports in isolated locations, where aircraft may be parked for more extended periods, theft of fuel and minor aircraft parts is not unknown.

Gavin Kiggen, Vice President, Africa, Execujet Aviation Group, adds that biosafety can also pose security threats. “Health risks can cause restrictions in terms of entry and exit, as well as a sudden change in protocols that can disrupt a mission unexpectedly, thereby potentially putting crew, passengers, and cargo at risk,” he explains.

Individual safety can also be compromised. For passengers and crew travelling long distances or through remote areas, security escorts become imperative to reach hotels or destinations at night or odd hours, especially in areas with histories of insurgencies, banditry, war, and general insecurity.

African BizAv – Still Evolving

African Business Aviation is still evolving, which is reflected in the limited number of FBOs on the continent. Where these exist, operators benefit from airside locations and a high level of security for passengers and aircraft.

In the absence of FBO services, operators should not expect security consistency. Kiige suggests that the general security situation of a country will be reflected in airport security. However, this is equally tempered by the ability of the country to support security needs.

Poorer countries may not afford high-end surveillance systems at all the ports of entry, so security may be compromised. Kiggen echoes this, stating, “Political and economic instability, poverty, social inequality, as well as the condition and state of the aviation infrastructure” all influence the security status.

The onus is generally on the airport to provide security for the entire space within the airport, its buildings, and airport security staff. Kiggen says, “the airport operator needs to make sure that the airport is fully compliant in terms of ICAO Aviation security practices as set out in ICAO 8973 document.”

Still, operators should not take this for granted. “Operators need to ensure that disciplined safety and security practices are put in place before operating in Africa. These practices can include flight, airfield and security risk assessments, and onsite safety audits.”

Ten Security Tips for African Flying

This seemingly paints a picture of a continent where operations are constantly under threat. Yet, Kiige assures, “the reality is that these risks affect only a small minority of airports and locations. Most are perfectly safe and secure to fly to.

However, if operating within Africa, preparation, awareness, and information will certainly enhance operational security.

So, what can owners, operators and flight departments do to mitigate security events? It will depend on the level of risk, but the following guidelines can deliver extra peace of mind.

1    Engage a local trip support provider with a physical presence in the destination airport. This will ensure that up-to-date information is shared, with relevant dos and don’ts. The trip support company will provide valuable insights into the destination and its current security protocols.

2    Anticipating and assessing the potential threat risks at the destination should be part of your planning process.

3    Offer security training to personnel, including your flight crew, to provide an extra layer of awareness.

4    Expect the unexpected, and have a Plan B ready. Mid-route changes can happen following terrorist and insurgent activity, or natural disasters. The African continent itself is as dynamic as those that populate it.

5    Keep the lines of communication open between the airport, local CAA, crew and ground representation. Ask questions about concerns, sharing any negative experiences so security can be upgraded.

6    For overnight stays, particularly in remote locations, it is advisable to engage dedicated security support for the aircraft, its cargo, and personnel.

7    For aircraft frequently flying to destinations with security threats, equip the aircraft with anti-tamper measures to reduce the risk of theft. This can be supplemented by physical security on site.

8    For those visiting isolated locations, provide robust communication systems and asset tracking devices.

9    Close protection security will reduce the risk of personal danger for travellers accessing areas of political instability and social unrest.

10    Create a crisis management and emergency response plan, and communicate it to all stakeholders.

“Most African airports exercise stringent security measures which help to secure the industry,” says Kiige, adding that many passengers and crew complain about the number of seemingly repetitive and tedious security checks at African airports compared to those in Europe.

However, if a comprehensive pre-flight review suggests security could be compromised, following the local expert’s advice and being thoroughly prepared will go a long way to ensuring operational security in Africa’s burgeoning Business Aviation sector.

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