Airing on the Side of Safety. (Airport Security)

By Oatman, Robert L. | Security Management, June 2002 | Go to article overview

Airing on the Side of Safety. (Airport Security)


Oatman, Robert L., Security Management


TO COMPANY EXECUTIVES, a corporate jet may be a status symbol, a perk, or a necessity. It is also a source of risk. The threats posed by such aircraft have expanded and been brought into much clearer focus since September 11. They must be understood and mitigated by the corporate security team. The policies and procedures governing the use of corporate aircraft should be delineated in a formal plan, which must have the full support of the company's chief executive officer. Access to the plan should be limited to those with an operational need to know, and those responsible for carrying out the plan's measures must be held accountable for doing so.

The first step in developing a plan is to assess the threat. Security must then set forth appropriate protection measures that address conditions encountered when the plane is on the ground and when it is in the air.

Assessment. The first step in developing a corporate aircraft security plan is to assess the threat level. Any corporate air fleet faces a certain base threat level--which pertains generally to theft and vandalism. Another consideration is executive protection. Executives could be targets of kidnapping or criminal activity if the corporation is involved in controversial activities, if the executives maintain a high profile, or if travel involves countries where these crimes are common.

Threat assessments must be dynamic because the factors that bring risk to aircraft and passengers change continually. The security manager may, therefore, need to alter the assessment of the threat level at any time based on current information. For instance, shortly after the September ii terrorist attacks, one company the author advises developed reliable intelligence that its aircraft and passengers faced an elevated risk. To deal with this increased threat, the company decided to send an executive protection specialist on every corporate flight. The specialist not only provided security during flights but also was responsible for ensuring physical and procedural security of aircraft on the ground.

Other factors may also affect the threat assessment. For example, many companies today participate in what is known as "fractional ownership" of aircraft. A company might own a one-quarter share of a certain type and size of aircraft. However, the company will not always use the same aircraft. The aircraft management company may on occasion supply different but comparable models. The security staff should be prepared to secure not only the type of aircraft that the company bought fractionally but also all aircraft that could be substituted for it.

On the ground. Corporate aircraft can fly into about 5,400 U.S. public-use airports, compared with some 580 airports served by scheduled air carriers. The airports are owned and operated by local municipalities, typically without large budgets or expertise to devote to security. Thus, corporate aircraft frequently travel to small--and possibly less secure--airports.

Physical security. The first line of defense for corporate aircraft is strong security when the plane is on the ground. The goal is to protect against unauthorized access to either the aircraft or the ground support facilities by keeping adversaries away from the tarmac, the hangar, and the aircraft itself. For instance, security might set up a portable microwave fence kit, which consists of four sets of transmitters and receivers. This "fence" provides invisible perimeter protection that generates an alarm if the signal is interrupted.

In addition, the aircraft should be parked in a locked or guarded hangar whenever possible, and access control and intrusion detection devices should be placed in the hangar. When the plane is kept away from its home base, it typically will not have access to a hangar. In those situations, the assistance of local security service providers may be needed to bolster other physical protection measures.

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