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Aviation Infrastructure: Security infra in airports

Aviation Infrastructure: Security infra in airports

As airport security took centrestage in aviation after the 9/11 and other forms of terror attacks, Inderjit Singh says a national security infrastructure is now a pre-requisite to growth.

Of the Rs 650,000 crore that the Indian government has budgeted in 2011-12 towards transportation, Rs 70,000 crore is budgeted for the development of greenfield airports and upgrade of existing airports and a major portion of it would be from the private sector, financial institutions and Foreign Direct Investment (FDI). Investment by Foreign Institutional Investors (FIIs) has seen a three year low because of slowdown in global and Indian economy. The net investment in January-October 2011 was Rs 20,744 crore vis-à-vis Rs 155,250 crore in corresponding 2010 period.

More than 13.35 million people fly every day.  At any given moment there are an estimated 19,600 commercial passenger aircraft in the air, flying between 1,650 airports in 179 countries around the world. This arithmetic adds up to a global security nightmare. A bomb slipping into an airport or onboard an aircraft through airport security system is an airport operator's and passenger's worst nightmare. Over the years, there have been a number of high profile cases worldwide involving severe acts of terrorism, all presenting new challenges to the aviation security industry. The last decade has witnessed an unparalleled aviation security related phenomenon in the 11 September 2001 attack on the US. It was the first of its kind wherein civil aviation infrastructure, ie, commercial passenger airliners loaded with jet fuel, were used as “weapons of mass destruction” to destroy the core financial, civilian and military establishments of a nation.Hitherto airports and aircraft have been the target of criminal acts of unlawful interference. The 9/11 incident prompted global sweeping changes in aviation security perception, planning, policies and operational procedures, covering all levels of airline and airport functions as the industry's security system virtually underwent a paradigm shift.
 
Strategy and management
There is no universal methodology for aviation security planning appropriate to all needs. Its existence is a myth we should exorcise. Hence, an effective national aviation security regimen becomes pre-requisite to meet growth objectives and to restore and further boost the sagging investor confidence. Every airport and the operating airlines therefore, have to jointly formulate a broad based security strategy tailor made to individual airport needs. This would mean security is not provided by one or two ad hoc security considerations but by time tested interactive measures and methodical procedures, which provide security in depth, and which pose considerable difficulty for the potential terrorist. In structuring the security controls and the various screening devices, it is advocated that the measures be implemented so as to cause a minimum of interference with, or delay to the passengers, crew, baggage, cargo and mail.
 
The most vital component in the security system is the human factor. There is perhaps only one security system that terrorists can never guarantee to beat.  Unlike the complexities of the screens and detectors familiar to every terrorist, it doesn't use microchips, computers or X-rays. Instead, it relies on the world's oldest security scanner, the watchful and trained human eye. Aviation security today needs to be dovetailed into a larger hard-nosed counter-terrorism doctrine. We in the aviation security businesses have to think the way a terrorist, hijacker or a smuggler thinks. This means penetrating inside the mind of the potential terrorist and remaining one step ahead to wage a war on terror.
 
The way forward
In this bad new world of cyberspace specialists, terrorists are likely to fork off into a high tech direction and the internet is going to be a new tool of choice.Geog­raphic distance means less now than it did ever before, so cyber threats come from anywhere.Terrorists with the support of the hackers will resort to more hidden agendas. Threat apparently looms over the vulnerable domain of air traffic control systems from those who may attempt targeting them due to the associated global ramifications, as with power grids and financial institutions.

As terror organisations continue to evolve and refine their strategies and tactics in response to advanced technologies and measures from the aviation industry, the key to aviation security is being proactive and not reactive.

The author, until recently the Senior Vice President (Airports) in Dubai Aerospace Enterprise, was earlier Airport Director of New Delhi's Indira Gandhi International Airport (IGIA) and the ex-officio Chairman of the Airport Security Committee.

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