Those attending the International Quality and Productivity Centre’s third-annual Aviation Summit held in Dubai September 18 to 21 were left in no doubt about the scale of problems and the escalating sophistication of both criminal and terrorist groups. But the main theme running through the conference was one of humanity — in order to stop security threats, a human element is needed in the screening process.
Allan Thornton, head of security for Gulf Air, said there was no-one-size-fits-all approach to security. The way forward, according to Thornton, is to assess the situation with personal observation and human skills — the best tools airlines have.
“There is no substitute for going and looking yourself,” he said.
Cornelius Vuuren regional security manager for TNT Express, explained just how difficult the security picture has become by telling the audience that a recent shipment of a microwave sent from Egypt to Jordan by air contained a sizable number of pistol magazines.
“[Security] is a real threat in Dubai and our region,” Vuuren said. He also gave a non-air cargo example of a recent truck hijacking in Saudi Arabia in which $500,000 worth of laptops stolen.
More chillingly, Mark Moles, detective chief inspector with the counter terrorism unit of the UK’s Metropolitan Police, detailed the state-of-the-art bomb placed in a used printer on a flight from Yemen last year. The bomb “really showed innovation,” he told the conference attendees. Computer-generated graphics showed how no alien or unusual wiring was seen; the primary circuit board of a mobile phone, used to trigger the blast, also went undetected because it was next to the printer’s main board.
“This for me is where they stepped up,” Moles said. “It’s not going to be a printer next time.”
Moles said the cargo business faces increasing security challenges. Not only are bomb-makers increasingly cutting-edge in their abilities, but the Internet allows them to spread the technologies to other groups and what Moles termed lone wolves — solitary, self-radicalized individuals. “We are going to have a massive problem with that,” he said.
Conference attendees seemed surprised as to the detail of Moles’ presentation on the printer bomb; some who attended the session hinted the specificity was a move to galvanize the industry by shocking it.
The problems the industry is facing well might spread and take some nasty new turns. That being said, one ray of hope is an improving situation in Iraq.
“Iraq is normalizing in terms of aviation, but has a long way to go,” Martin Aggar, managing director of aviation for Iraq at G4S Aviation Security, said. More international airlines are conducting audits, and the government is expected to sign its National Civil Aviation Security Program before the end of the year.
What was clear, though, is while technology is respected as way to enhance security, many felt that human intelligence and instinct were sometimes more reliable guides. Moles pointed out the Yemen bomb plot was foiled not by machines but people. “If it wasn’t for the [human intelligence], that would have gone off,” he said.
A good example of what this blended but human-based strategy looks like came from Abu Dhabi Airports Company. The company plans to use intelligent video analysis in its new midfield terminal, according to Ahmed Mohammed Al Haddabi, senior vice president for airport operations. This will back up ULD scanners, an explosive trace detection unit and security dogs on the cargo side.
ADAC keeps an open mind on what technology it buys and uses, but is firm on one point.
“We do believe that what we do has to be integrated,” Al Haddabi told the conference, although he noted that “if you don’t have the people, you have nothing.”