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Security & Business Aircraft

In a world awash in uncertainty, governments and passengers seek travel free from the specter of terrorism. Jack Olcott reveals how the nature of Business Aviation security provides Board Members with an additional reason to structure a travel policy that includes company aircraft.

Jack Olcott   |   6th January 2011
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Jack Olcott Jack Olcott

Possibly the world’s most recognized advocate, if not expert on the value of Business Aviation,...
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Long before the tragic events of September 11, 2001 precipitated time-consuming lines at security check points, and well before the loss of a Pan American 747 over Lockerbie, Scotland, security was an integral part of Business Aviation policy and standard operating procedures.

The focus for business aircraft before the current era was primarily on industrial, rather than personal security, although the fear that a corporate leader would be abducted was always present - particularly when traveling to developing regions of the globe.

Thirty years ago, companies were concerned that rivals would track the activity of business aircraft to determine the next entity to be acquired by a firm seeking expansion. In fact, suspicious people could be seen from time-to-time situated in parked cars at Westchester County Airport, located about 25 miles north of New York City and home base for many flight departments. These people would be listening to the control tower on their portable radios as corporate crews received their flight plans.

Companies took considerable steps to disguise the ultimate destination of their travels, and trip plans were held as company confidential. They still are today.

As corporate officers became the subject of news stories, the need for personal security grew. Flight department protocol was augmented to reflect concerns for personnel, with particular emphasis on one of the most effective techniques available to security experts—personal recognition.

Unlike people carried on commercial airliners, occupants on a company aircraft are known to either the aircraft captain or the lead passenger. A stranger on the company aircraft stands out like the proverbial sore thumb. Thus the likelihood that a terrorist could emerge from his or her seat and take over a company aircraft is nil. In essence, the doorway into the aircraft is its security checkpoint—once closed, the aircraft and its occupants are secure.

In the nearly impossible scenario where a terrorist gains access and attempts to commandeer a company aircraft, there is a strong probability that either the remaining passengers or the flight crew would subdue the perpetrator or thwart his or her mission.

There are other reasons why a company aircraft is not a threat to national security. In addition to the close scrutiny that surrounds a flight department’s operations, the typical business jet is neither sufficiently massive nor the carrier of enough fuel to do the damage that the airliners hijacked on 9/11 did to the World Trade Center or to the Pentagon.

In the nature of governments, it is understandable that security agencies such as the USA’s Transportation Security Administration (TSA) are exploring whether to extend airline screening protocols such as found at commercial airports to Business Aviation. Proposals - the most notable in the USA being the Large Aircraft Security Program (LASP) - have surfaced since shortly after 9/11. So far, none have been instituted as the law of the land. Nor does the Business Aviation community feel that such a “one-size-fits-all” approach is necessary.

More reasonable procedures have been instituted, such as checking all pilots licensed by the Federal Aviation Administration against lists of known or potential terrorists; establishing procedures for reporting suspicious financial transactions during the purchase or sale of a business aircraft; community- wide education pertaining to noting and reporting suspicious behavior by people visiting local airports; and instituting stringent background checks for non-US flight students and requiring proof of citizenship for US applicants for training. That just touches upon a few of the procedures that have been developed by the Business Aviation community.

Most significant, however, is the need for Directors to mandate that their flight departments conduct periodic security reviews.

• Is the environment surrounding your flight department’s facilities under surveillance and subject to multiple circles of security?

• Does your company have a process for identifying personnel who are listed on the flight manifest?

• Is there a procedure for reporting suspicious behavior?

• Is there a plan for interceding if someone acts in a threatening manner?

No form of transportation is more controllable, and thus more secure than Business Aviation. By establishing enlightened policy, Directors can assure the security of their company’s most valuable asset—its personnel.


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