March 18, 2019
Business aircraft operators need to stay abreast of new developments in the ever-changing international operating environment.
An increasing number of business aircraft operators are flying overseas. Operators that have been traveling internationally for years are well-versed in the protocols. However, regulations and conditions abroad are constantly changing, so even the most seasoned operators need to check to see what may have changed at the destination since the last time they visited.
“The globalization of business has significantly affected business aviation,” said Matt Burdette, chief of intelligence – global risk at UnitedHealthcare Global. “International security policies and procedures are no longer just a set of recommended best practices for the flight department – it’s increasingly become a duty-of-care responsibility and potentially a liability issue for companies as a whole.”
What best practices should an aviation operation consider for securing crew, passengers and aircraft in a foreign country? How can you avoid common mistakes and ensure a safe, secure international experience?
PREPARE AND RESEARCH THOROUGHLY
Always plan for an international trip by thoroughly research-ing your destination, even if you were there last month. If your company has a corporate security team, work with that group to identify risks and potential mitigation measures.
“The U.S. Department of State offers a number of resources to assist in your pre-trip planning,” noted Doug Carr, NBAA’s vice president of international and regulatory affairs, including travel advisories for specific regions. They include:
- Embassy and consulate location and contact information
- Safety and security tips
- Summaries of country entry/exit requirements
- Overviews of local laws and customs
- Information regarding medical tourism, recommended vaccinations and other health-related issues
One of the most valued State Department resources is its travel advisory system, which consists of four levels, ranging from 1 – Exercise normal precautions to 4 – Do not travel. Crime, terrorism, civil unrest, health conditions, natural disaster, time-limited events (e.g., elections, sporting events) and other risks are considered in calculating the travel advisory level for a particular location or region.
“NBAA also recommends that crew members and passengers traveling internationally enroll in the State Department’s Smart Travel Enrollment Program (STEP),” said Carr. “Not only will you receive the latest security information while traveling, but your enrollment helps the local embassy or consul-ate locate and assist you in an emergency. In addition to registering with STEP, use the State Department’s website to learn about security risks specific to your destination and the services available to U.S. citizens while overseas.”
“It can be worthwhile to contact the RSO [Regional Security Officer] at the embassy or consulate at your destination,” added Greg Kulis, a Gulfstream 650 captain and security coordinator for a large flight department. “They typically can’t give recommendations for specific businesses [for example, transportation vendors or hotels], but will often provide unclassified security briefings and other advice.”
An important, but sometimes over-looked, task in planning an international flight is identifying safe overflight areas, in case an emergency diversion becomes necessary. Part of that research includes reviewing visa requirements in case a diversion becomes necessary along the route. Also, plan your flight so as to avoid areas where diversions would
Do this research for each international trip. Just because you’ve been to a particular destination before doesn’t mean you can forego this research for the next trip. Civil unrest, natural disasters, labor strife and disease outbreaks can change the risk profile of a specific area overnight.
After having collected all the pertinent facts, aircraft operators should define what is an acceptable level of risk for their organization.
VETTING GROUND TRANSPORT, HOTELS AND SECURITY SERVICES
Another critical step in pre-trip planning is to vet your vendors, including those providing ground transportation, lodging and aircraft or personnel security services.
Experts recommend staying at large hotel chains whenever possible, as they typically adhere to a standard level of security and safety. Common-sense policies – using only lodging that has guest rooms with interior entrance doors, checking your surroundings before entering your room, sharing your room number with other crew members, and establishing a rendezvous location in case of evacuation – are crucial.
Ground transportation risks vary from one location to another, but experts agree this is one of the most vulnerable parts of any international trip, especially trips from the FBO to the hotel. Once crew members have arrived at the hotel and changed out of uniform, they are less identifiable, and their overall risk is much lower.
Consider using private transportation – either provided by a handler, arranged by your flight planner or, in high-risk areas, vetted, secure transport – for the trip from the FBO to the hotel.
“The destination always determines the level of transportation needed,” said Kulis. “Once away from the airplane and out of uniform, a crew member is just a normal person and random transportation, including taxis and rideshares, might be acceptable.”
Choosing quality, trusted security providers, whether for the aircraft or for passengers and personnel, is critical. Use only properly vetted, recognized security organizations recommended by your flight planning provider or another operator.
Security firms can provide a variety of services, including armored vehicles and armed security personnel, in high-risk areas, but Burdette also suggests that in some circumstances operators should consider using a dedicated aircraft guard for the duration of the stay or during certain heavily trafficked events.
“In addition to security vulnerabilities at the airport, consider the amount of business aviation traffic for large events,” Burdette explained. “If damage occurs on a busy ramp or remote parking area and you don’t have someone watching the air-craft, will you be able to prove liability?”
AVOID COMMON MISTAKES
Complacency is the number one risk for business aircraft crew members, whether falling victim because of frequent trips to a single destination or underestimating the risk of a particular area.
“If you’re staying in a very nice-looking downtown area, it’s easy to be lulled into a false sense of confidence,” said Kulis. “Just because the few blocks immediately surrounding your hotel look nice doesn’t mean an area is safe. In some cases, this is where victim selection occurs because people in these nicer areas are perceived as being wealthy.”
Food handling and storage are also often underestimated risks. Experts recommend selecting reputable catering companies and storing catering in secure areas. Ideally, food should be secured with tamper-proof tape or stored in tam-per-proof containers.
Lack of adequate fuel policies is another common mistake. An international trip often lands at a destination with adequate fuel reserves for the first flight leg and remains that way until the crew orders fuel shortly before departure.
“An airplane without enough fuel to get you and your passengers to a safe location is of no value as a security tool,” warned Kulis, who explained that in many parts of the world, fuel is provided by a single source, often government-controlled, making possible strikes and other disruptions particularly impactful.
When you land, obtain at least enough fuel to facilitate an emergency evacuation, should one become necessary. If a fueler already is closed when you land, add more fuel reserves on the first leg of your journey to so that you can conduct an emergency evacuation, if necessary.
Establish clear policies regarding communication during international trips. For example, will your company require “burner” personal electronic devices (new devices with no or minimal data stored on them, which are later destroyed or sanitized upon return to the U.S.), or are you permitted to use your usual devices?
“In countries with an established track record of engaging in compromising electronic devices, burner devices might be worthwhile, depending on the company’s business and overall appetite for risk,” said Burdette.
In some parts of the world, it’s best to assume your devices will be com-promised and that hotel rooms might be outfitted with listening devices. In these regions, burner devices might be necessary. Travelers might need to take additional steps, such as going to an area where no one else is around to make phone calls that involve sensitive information. No matter what the situation, it’s important to comply with company policies regarding what devices are permitted.
Kulis urges flight crew members to also consider the personal information stored on their devices. Not only does identify-ing information leave you open to financial fraud and theft, but some seemingly innocent material – like photographs or religious material – may be considered culturally offensive in some regions and increase risk.
EXERCISE CAUTION AND LIMIT LIABILITY
“International trip planning and execution is a duty-of-care issue,” said Burdette. “Did the company do every-thing it could from a reasonable stand-point to mitigate risk and manage security overseas? There are some legal systems and established laws that will hold a company or its executives criminally or financially liable for failure to provide duty of care.”
THE STATE DEPARTMENT’S
The U.S. Department of State offers a variety of valuable resources to travelers, including the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP).
STEP is a free service that enables U.S. citizens traveling abroad to receive the latest security updates from the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate. It also assists embassy or consulate personnel in locating and contacting American citizens overseas during an emergency.
Personal information received by U.S. embassies and consulates via the STEP process is subject to provisions of the Privacy Act and may not be disclosed without written authorization or unless disclosure is otherwise permitted by the Privacy Act, alleviating concerns regarding confidentiality.
“Registering with STEP gives embassy or consulate staff a head-start in assist-ing U.S. citizens traveling abroad,” said Greg Kulis, a Gulfstream 650 captain and security coordinator of a large flight department. “The information entered in STEP before a trip facilitates communication in an emergency because the embassy or consulate has more confidence in that information,” said Kulis, adding that his flight department registers all crew members and passengers prior to each international trip.
STEP is not just used for security-related events. Enrollment in the program can help U.S. embassy personnel locate and assist U.S. citizens evacuate or respond to natural disasters, pandemic outbreaks and other crises.