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Category Archives: Aviation Security

The Nightmare Scenario – the Insider Threat

The Nightmare Scenario – the Insider Threat

The recent report of an American Airlines employee sabotaging a flight in order to obtain more overtime represents the biggest threat to commercial aviation. Not only do you have an employee with access to an airport, but also to an airliner, with a legitimate reason to be crawling around the innards of the plane, and with the know-how on how to bring it down.

I often compare the insider threat as someone having the keys to your house and doing work at your house. With the keys, they bypass your security measures and it’s not unusual for them to be there as they have legitimate business they are conducting. In this case, it’s not just someone with the keys, it’s a member of the family.

For the aviation system to work, we have to trust some people to do their jobs without someone constantly looking over their shoulder. Pilots, mechanics, flight attendants, airport police, fire, maintenance and operations personnel, air traffic controllers and so on. There is no reasonable way to monitor their actions on a continual basis to ensure they aren’t doing something to threaten the flight. We can do background checks until we’re blue in the face but they still won’t reveal intent AFTER the checks are done and the person is already on the job.

This case is similar to the ramp employee at Sea-Tac airport last year who stole a Horizon Air aircraft and went joyriding before crashing it into the ground. You have a person with a clean background, with legitimate and approved access to the airfield and a legitimate reason to be in the flight deck. Most of the proposed solutions are unsustainable, like requiring personnel to always work in pairs, or installing various surveillance devices into the cockpits, hangars and maintenance areas, then hiring people to monitor all of this stuff – and not just any people, but ones who can tell when someone is sabotaging an airplane.

This type of threat isn’t mitigated through technology or process. It’s mitigated through good workplace violence training programs, noticing when your co-workers are having problems and getting interventions in place to get them on the right track, whether that’s counseling, the police or the court system.

It’s not always the quiet ones.

The late comedian George Carlin said, “They always say ‘it’s the quiet ones,’ you gotta watch. Imagine you’re in a bar and a guy was in the corner reading a book, not bothering anyone, and there’s another guy by the door jumping up and down screaming with a machete, yelling “I’ll kill the next motherf^@%er who comes in here,”… who are you gonna watch?”

There’s never an attack where there weren’t some sort of pre-incident indicators that could have been noticed or were noticed and action wasn’t taken on them. It’s about noticing things in the workplace and comparing them with the norms of that individual and the workplace itself.

There will always be a risk of an insider taking criminal or terrorist actions. That risk will never be completely eliminated, but, as we do in other areas of aviation security, its a risk that can be mitigated.

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Why Are More Guns Showing Up At Airports?

Why Are More Guns Showing Up At Airports?

Article Originally Published in the State Aviation Journal May, 2019 Why have gun seizures at US airports gone up by 357% over the past ten years? In 2008, TSA 926 seized guns at screening checkpoints. Last year they seized 4,239 and the rate continues to increase. If you haven’t heard, you can’t carry a gun in… Continue Reading

Remain Overnight: Whether You Want To Or Not

Remain Overnight: Whether You Want To Or Not

The Toronto airport again has played a role in aviation security. It was 134years ago, June 23, 1985, when the deadliest airline bombing in history took down Air India Flight 182. The flight had departed from Vancouver, made a stopover in Canada en route to London, but all 329 on board were killed by a… Continue Reading

Paranoia, will it destroy ya – or will it save ya? Columbine, 20 years later

Paranoia, will it destroy ya – or will it save ya? Columbine, 20 years later

Would you rather live life blissfully unaware of the hazards around you, but exceedingly happy and fulfilled, unafraid and experiencing all that life has to offer, only to be killed suddenly in some sort of violent attack, or would you rather live your entire natural life, prepared and hyper-aware of the violence around you, even… Continue Reading

What will we do without the TSA?

What will we do without the TSA?

As the shutdown continues with no end in sight, some people are speculating that TSA screeners may go on strike. Or, that more TSA workers will continue to walk off the job, have “blue flu,” or find an employer that can make a payroll, resulting in massive air system shutdowns. While I think a strike… Continue Reading

Security Checkpoints Are Choke Points

Security Checkpoints Are Choke Points

Today, the aviation industry screens passengers and their carry-on bags essentially the same way it did in the early 1970s. While detection technologies have changed to better detect threats and move people through the checkpoint, training and performance standards for screeners has improved, and risk-based processes have been implemented, the fundamental process is still the… Continue Reading

What Awaits Us With New Airline Technologies?

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Theft of Aircraft at SeaTac

Theft of Aircraft at SeaTac

This is an evolving situation so facts may change the information expressed below. The theft of an aircraft out of SeaTac’s airport has shined a light on a rarely considered area of aviation security, the potential threat from those with unfettered access to an airplane.  The last significant incident like this was the Germanwings first… Continue Reading

Why the Pre-flight Safety Brief Did Not Work on SWA 1380

The recent emergency landing of the Southwest Airlines flight 1380 goes to show the importance of listening to the in-flight safety briefing. The life you save may be your own. However, just telling people to “listen to the briefing,” isn’t going to change behavior. As a frequent flyer myself I understand how repetitive the in-flight bright briefing can… Continue Reading

Is Crowdsourcing A Component of Our Aviation Security of the Future?

Is Crowdsourcing A Component of Our Aviation Security of the Future?

Most of us have heard the phrase, “See something? Say something.” This phrase was adopted by New York City initially after the 9/11 attacks. The phrase was quickly adopted by the TSA as a mantra to encourage passengers and airport workers to report any suspicious activity, people and baggage. In theory, crowdsourcing an active watch… Continue Reading