Creating a Flight Department (Part 8)

Developing an effective security plan for your business aircraft operations

Fred Haap  |  20th January 2016
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Fred Haap
Fred Haap

Fred Haap is an IS-BAO accredited auditor and past Chairman of NBAA. During his distinguished career...

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BizAv Security

The tragic events of 9/11 in the USA as well as current headlines from around the globe elevated the need for comprehensive security planning in Business Aviation, observe Fred Haap and Jack Olcott in this first of a two-part treatment for Fight Departments…

Safe and secure operations have always been attributes of transportation via business aircraft. Business Aviation has an overall safety record comparable with the most sophisticated Scheduled Airlines and in some years even better in terms of accidents and fatalities.

A similar statement can be made about security within Business Aviation. Safety and security, in fact, are complementary qualities; some languages use the same word for safety and security, so close are the two characteristics.

Prior to the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, flight department security programs focused primarily on protecting passengers and the company owning or operating the business aircraft from two threats: unauthorized dissemination of proprietary information (i.e., industrial security), and disruptions caused by troubled individuals or reactionary shareholders with a grievance. (Avoiding media with their seeming insidious appetite for gossip and indignant fault-finding also was addressed.)

Flight Departments operating internationally developed procedures for dealing with threats from politically active groups. For the most part, however, the risk of terrorist activity against domestic flight was considered to be low.

Since 9/11, however, the specter of radicals interrupting a flight created a ‘new normal’ for all forms of air transportation, even Business Aviation. Consequently, today’s Flight Department must have a comprehensive security plan.

Security Basics

Two underlying concepts for establishing and implementing security procedures are identical for all threats. The first is having secure areas, usually identified as concentric rings surrounding the aircraft whether in the hangar or parked on the ramp awaiting crew and passengers. The second is identifying who is allowed to transverse a security ring.

Using the aircraft as the center of each security ring, the first perimeter where passengers, service personnel and/or flight crews must be identified typically is the line between areas of public access and the demarcation of restricted locations at the FBO or company waiting area were only people with a need for access are allowed to enter.

In some cases, the first security circle might be access to the airport property (e.g., a private airport solely for the use of company personnel).

For the most part, however, this first perimeter is designed to preclude access by persons with no mal-intent as well as providing the initial warning that a secure area is being breached by nefarious characters.

Typically, FBO or company employees vetted for the purpose of determining who is allowed to cross that first level of security, serve as ‘gatekeepers’. If someone trespasses into the secured area, the gatekeeper challenges the individual and if unsuccessful in correcting the situation, alerts appropriate authorities.

Surrounding the aircraft itself is a second security circle, established sufficiently distant from the vehicle to prevent any tampering or mischief. Typically, the security plan specifies that a crew member escorts passenger and service personnel across that second security perimeter. In essence, no person comes within close proximity of the aircraft unless accompanied by a vetted crewmember.

Depending upon local circumstances, vetted FBO personnel might be allowed access to the aircraft at locations well known to the crew, but to be fully secure delegation of security functions is unacceptable.

The third security level is the aircraft itself. No one should be allowed entrance into the aircraft without first being identified by the aircraft captain or lead passenger (provided the lead passenger is known to the captain). Facial identity is an axiom of security. IDs can be forged. Driver licenses with photos can be misused or simply bogus. But recognizing a business associate or friend is essentially the gold standard of security.


No one must be allowed to enter the aircraft without a clear reason to being there and without being known to the captain or lead passenger—Period! No exceptions!

Many corporations require that a passenger manifest be set well in advance of an aircraft’s estimated time of departure, so that appropriate vetting can be accomplished. If any questions arise, it is recommended that the aircraft captain check with the company’s head of corporate security, or with the FD scheduler if a corporate security department does not exist.

The Flight Department’s Security Plan should specify how passenger manifests will be addressed. The flight crew should be encouraged to communicate with corporate security or responsible top management regarding passenger wellbeing, prior to boarding a flight or post flight if a passenger’s ongoing behavior seems suspicious or possibly unstable.

If the lead passenger wants to bring a stranger onboard, the captain must be authorized to challenge that person for his or her identification and the reason why the individual is accompanying the flight. FDs should have a procedure in place (such as a code word or phrase) that alerts the captain to a potential threat to security. Furthermore, subsequent actions following the utterance of that security word or phrase must be documented in the department’s Security Plan.

When Airborne

Flight Department policy should state what is allowed in the passenger cabin as well as in the cockpit. Many companies prohibit the carrying of firearms in areas accessible in flight. The Security Plan should specify how firearms will be handled if there is passageway between the cabin and baggage area. For example, gun locks are available and the crew can carry the keys.

Similar to all aspects of flight, the crew should practice “what if” exercises, imagining possible security scenarios.

What if a passenger disrupts the flight? What if ATC requests that airspace be cleared? Just as with other emergencies, it is best to know what to do before being called upon to act.

Remember, especially when flying internationally, some airspace overlays hostile areas. Unfortunately, terrorists have some sophisticated missiles. Also, the FD’s Security Plan must specify the recommended procedures for using one or more of the specialized flight planning services available to operators. Those services are a FD’s best means of avoiding hot spots.

Next Steps

The Flight Department’s Security Plan is a required document and should be presented as a component of the overall Business Plan for providing aviation services. Based upon basic security practices and special conditions related to the company’s anticipated areas of operation, procedure must be established, implemented and practiced just as other safety functions are addressed in the department’s Ops Plan.

Next month we will relate the security basics presented herein to specific steps that should be considered when creating a Flight Department.



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