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Cover Story

Going Global? International Security Planning for Overseas Missions

The terrorist attacks and political upheaval that have erupted this year around the world – from Moscow to the Middle East – have prompted business aircraft operators to renew their focus on security when operating overseas.

"The suicide bombing in Moscow and the mass protests in the Middle East have raised a lot of concern in the industry," said Greg Kulis, CAM, chairman of NBAA's Security Council. "Business aviation, in fact, affords operators strong safeguards, if they do the proper planning."

Ensuring the safety and security of international operations involves knowing the risks specific to the destination, planning to avoid or mitigate those risks, and being prepared to respond to unplanned events and security breaches.

Know Before You Go

"Operators leaving the U.S. should obtain a comprehensive situation report for the area they're going to," said Kulis, who is a captain and the security coordinator for an NBAA Member Company that operates internationally.

Prepared prior to the trip, the situation report should detail the conditions at each stop, including:

  • The political dynamics and any disputes that could lead to violence
  • The timing of the trip (for example, whether it occurs during a national festival or holiday)
  • The economic climate, unemployment rate and crime trends
  • The transportation infrastructure, including ground transportation routes to hotels and the availability of secure hangar space at the airport.

The NBAA Security Council recommends consulting with an international-trip-planning service to prepare the situation report, especially for operators that do not often fly internationally.

"If you're going to a country for the first time, it's ideal to get a briefing from a company that specializes in international security," said NBAA's Doug Carr, vice president, safety, security & regulation.

Avoid the Most Common Risks

With a situation report in hand, operators can develop a specific security plan for the trip, which, combined with the flight department's standard security procedures, will help in avoiding the most common risks.

"A constant risk on international trips is ground transportation," said Kulis. "It's essential to plan in advance how the passengers and flightcrew are going to get where they need to go and how they're going to get back to the airplane."

Kulis urges that operators avoid public transportation whenever possible, not only because of potential delays, but also because large concentrations of people have been terrorist targets in the past. Hiring vetted drivers is the safest option.

"It is important to obtain references for drivers and vet them ahead of time, which is also a service that a trip-planning company should provide," said Kulis. "I suggest using a pre-arranged password to make sure you are actually connecting with the contracted transportation provider."

When vetting car services, Tom Winn, senior chief of operations and intelligence at Medex Global Solutions, a leading international trip planning company, says he looks for providers that have adequate insurance, whose standards include background checks on their drivers and which allow Medex to inspect their operations in person.

The 2008 terrorist attacks in Mumbai underscore the need for vigilance in foreign hotels. Contract pilot Jeff Beck, who has flown internationally for nearly 30 years, was in Mumbai at a nearby hotel during the attack and has simple advice for travelers: stay alert and avoid complacency.

"Keep a rubber doorstop in your bag. When you're in the hotel at night or during political unrest, kick it under the door to prevent any unauthorized entry," said Beck.

"Also know where the exits are, and have your essentials in reach if you need to evacuate."

Beck also recommends that travelers carry notarized copies of their passports and avoid wearing logo clothing or American flags that might make them obvious targets.

If the situation in a foreign country becomes unsafe, the business aircraft may be a lifeline. In order to be able to evacuate quickly, however, the aircraft, the fuel and the flightcrew must all be secure. The NBAA Security Council recommends using the aircraft's security system at every stop and placing security tape on all access panels and doors after the aircraft is parked. When additional security is required, operators should post a guard at the aircraft.

“It's essential to plan in advance how the passengers and flightcrew are going to get where they need to go and how they're going to get back to the airplane.”

Greg Kulis, CAM
Chairman, NBAA, Security Council

"Guards serve two purposes," said Winn. "They act as a deterrent against people with malicious intent, and they're a set of eyes who can report if anything happens to your aircraft when you're not there."

It's essential to vet guards before hiring them. The security council warns that unscrupulous locals hired as guards can facilitate theft. "When we send a guard to watch your airplane, we only use a security provider we trust and can hold accountable," Winn said.

Be Prepared to Respond

A trip-specific security plan should complement the security procedures in the flight department's operations manual. With an emergency response plan (ERP) in place, a flight department can be prepared to respond to a breach in security during international operations.

The NBAA Management Guide has response procedures that should be part of any ERP, including:

  • Ask for help from local authorities
  • If the aircraft is violated in one area, verify that other areas have not been violated.
  • In the event of a hijacking, follow published emergency procedures if it is safe to do so, including setting the transponder to 7500 and flying a course to the destination the hijacker has announced at no more than 400 knots.

Winn also advises that flight departments select a team member at home base to be available 24 hours a day during an international trip, so flightcrews can call if there's a security threat.

"Flight departments are usually well prepared for a medical incident," said Winn, "They should have similar procedures in place to assist the flightcrew in case of a security breach."

   Take These Standard Precautions
   Before an International Flight

   If your company has an in-house security
   department, consult with them about your trip
   and the country you're visiting.

  • Check the international travel information published by the U.S. State Department.
  • Look up the airport you're flying into on NBAA's International Feedback Database.
  • Register your travel plans with the State Department, which enables the U.S. Embassy in the country you're visiting to contact you if there is a crisis during your trip.
  • Leave your complete detailed itinerary with contacts back home.
  • Always have a backup plan in place.

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