How Government Can Protect Airports

How Government Can Protect Airports from Terrorists, Invaders

06 Sep 2013

Stella Oduah, Aviation Minister

Aviation security experts proffer ways the government can tighten security at the airport without compromising passenger comfort in the face of terror and other threats, writes Chinedu Eze

Security and safety have been a recurrent issue in air transport in Nigeria because of inadequate measures taken to protect the airports and high number of accidents that have taken place in the country.

So far, the airports have been protected from terror attacks but the number of stowaways and the incident of the young Nigerian, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, who in December 2009 boarded a flight from Lagos airport with powdery bomb in his underpants, showed that the security at the airports is still porous.
Also shortly before the 2011 election, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) lost its Direct Data Capture Machines (DDCM) that were just imported to thieves at the cargo section of the Murtala Muhammed International Airport, Lagos. Further investigations revealed that most parts of the perimeter fencing along the Akowonjo area of the airport had holes underneath, dug by those who illegally access the airport environment and steal whatever they could.

Although there has been efforts to improve security at the airports after the incident and also the fortification of the airport terminals in the face of terror attacks that ravage the nation, but the successful stowaway incident of Daniel Ohikhena from Benin to Lagos in the wheel well of Arik Air flight showed that government should put more efforts to further secure the airports.

Protecting Air Travel

Aviation security expert, Adebayo Babatunde, the Chief Executive Officer of Avscon Securities Limited in an interview with THISDAY noted the essence of aviation security was for the protection of air travel from unlawful interferences and that there are basic structures set up to ensure that this happens.

“Demarcation of specific areas of the airports is part of the process of aircraft security, which includes the process of screening passengers, their luggage, supplies and others. These also include the scanning of vehicles that access the airside of the airports, including fuel tankers.”
Babatunde said providing security at the airports started with the screening of those that would be employed to ensure that they are not members of terrorists, terror organisation sympathisers and religious fanatics and such recruitment is followed by advanced training of high standards and national quality control which is the process of ensuring that the accepted security standard is maintained and also ensures compliance.
Nigeria as signatory to the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO), which is a global regulatory body that ensures security of international travel must abide by the ICAO standards and domesticate the world body’s regulation to protect both local and international travel by preventing runway incursions, and illegal access to airport facility in order to ensure safety of passengers, other users of the airport and aircraft.
“Airport security apparatus should have the ability to detect potential threat through the access control to the terminal and you must gather effective intelligence, which must be shared by all the security operatives at the airport. There must be security education for the non-security staff at the airport. Every staff must receive basic security training, including on how to handle unattended luggage and administration of emergency,” Babatunde said.

Staff Access Control Process

Babatunde said there should be the process of transiting from the landside to the airside of the airport, which is the sterile area and which should be inaccessible to unauthorised personnel, so anybody that should be allowed to the airside must be regularly screened and monitored and these include airport staff, airline workers, cabin crew, security and cabin suppliers.
“In terms of organisation, the airside which include the parking area (apron) and the runway are supposed to be fenced in line with ICAO standards; only members of staff of airlines and airport are authorised to be found within the perimeter of the airport. Part of the organisation for the security of the airport is the regular patrol by a team of security operatives.”

He said the patrol team must be in communication with the officials in the close circuit television (CCTV) control room, noting that airport staff must be scrutinised and monitor on regular basis to avoid insider threat, which is very dangerous because if there are officials that have sympathy for terror organisations, or other dangerous bodies, the airport is threatened.

Privatising Airports

Babatunde is of the view that because maintaining airport security is capital intensive, government should begin the process of handing over the building and management of airports to the private sector while it concentrates on providing security at these airports.

The Managing Director of Centurion Securities Limited, Group Captain John Ojikutu, spoke in the same vein and insisted that government must remove its hold on passenger terminal building and concentrate funds on critical aeronautical safety/ security facilities.
He said modern aviation devolves airport passenger terminal building to private investors, who carry out operations responsibility.

“FAAN was set up primarily as a commercial entity, not a security agency. Its role as airport security coordinator over government security agencies in the airport is superfluous. Government should therefore establish autonomous AVSEC (Aviation Security) agency like TSA (Transport Security Administration) of the US, consisting elements of SSS, police, Customs and Immigration,” Ojikutu, who is a former commandant of the Murtala Muhammed International Airport, Lagos, said.
However the idea that government should hand over the management of airports to the private sector has been the butt of enduring argument. The World over, it has not been established that this has been a better alternative because there has not been consistent success in all the countries where government ceded the management of airports to the private sector.

In Nigeria it is yet to be established whether it was a success because the effort was dogged by controversies. Besides, the concession that was done exposed the fact that without proper monitoring, the investor could be exploitative and could use high charges to make air travel more expensive, thus grossly limiting the number of people that travel by air.

Security Equipment and Facilities

Most of Nigeria’s airports lack adequate security equipment, from perimeter fencing to operational vehicles and inadequate personnel, but new measures being taken by the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN) are already addressing these problems.

Ojikutu observed that except the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, Abuja, other airports do not have adequate runway/ taxiway apron/approach lightings; that most do not have adequate/efficient water hydrants to provide water for fire fighting and no sufficient fire fighting machines. He also said no airport has security fencing or have enhanced perimeter fencing.

Many of the airports have their perimeter fencing projects terminated and some of the airports, like the one in Benin do not have perimeter fencing at all. The ones in Northern part of the country need urgent security fencing in addition to the perimeter fencing because of the menace of terror organisations.
The expert said the successful stowaway attempt by Daniel Ohikhena had showed that illegal trespassers could have easy access at the nation’s airports and why it is necessary to profile the FAAN security officials and also monitor their activities is that they could compromise their duties, which need serious commitment and patriotism to do.
During investigation after the stealing of INEC’s DDC machines, it was discovered then that at the cargo area of the Lagos airport, people who have nothing legal to do at the airport bribe their way into the cargo terminal through one particular gate located at the end of the Airport Road; those AVSEC officials that man the gate had compromised their position.

So Ohikhena has reawakened interest in the security of air travellers in Nigeria; the deployment of equipment and personnel and also the weaknesses of the country’s aviation security programme.
“I think we need to be serious and critical of this story of stowaway. FAAN and Arik cannot exonerate themselves of neglect or breaches of their respective security programme. Aside from possible leakages in the airport access control or perimeter fence, the boy could have been an agent of home-grown terrorists sent to plant explosives on the air side. Standard regulation requires Arik to abort take-off from Benin when he was informed about safety infringement. What NCAA should do is to begin the audit of both FAAN and Arik security programme,” Ojikutu volunteered.
An Arik source told THISDAY that by international standards, the pilot gets his directive from the control tower and it is from that information he makes his decision. In the case of the stowaway incident in Benin, the pilot said he got a go-ahead from the control tower; even when the boy, who ran across the aircraft was yet to be seen, the control tower assured the pilot to take off, insisting that the runway was clear for take-off, adding that the dialogue between the control tower and the pilot could be obtained from the tape that recorded the discussion.

The source also argued that the controllers see the airside of the airport more comprehensively than any other person at the airport because of the tower so they are in a better position to know what is happening at the runway.

Meeting ICAO Standards

“Aviation security programme is ICAO required for all aviation operators which we domesticated in our NCASP (Nigeria Civil Aviation Security Programme) to safeguard civil aviation against act of unlawful interference. NCAA (the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority) must in addition to the audit, find out status of the background checks of staff working in the airports restricted areas. Lastly all Nigerian airports do not have secure perimeter fences and all do not have security fences. Security fences have been neglected since ICAO visit/report of 2004.”
Ojikutu said N4.5 billion out of the N19.5 billion released was said to have been spent by FAAN on perimeter fences and emergency operating centre (EOC); N2.2 billion was said to have been spent by FAAN to pay staff pensions “not safety issues; NAMA (the Nigeria Airspace Management Agency) spent N6.5 billion on the so-called safe tower. What the balance was used to do remains a mystery. Rivers state government gave FAAN N2 billion in addition to the cost of the reconstructing of Port Harcourt runway.” Ojikutu also said.

Tags: Airports, Business, Featured, Government, Invaders, Nigeria, Terrorists

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