The word of 2021 so far is ‘uncertainty’,” said Eric Moilanen, president of Premier Corporate Security, Inc., and chair of NBAA’s Security Council, especially when considering business aviation security.
Between ever-changing COVID restrictions, political and civil unrest in many parts of the globe and populations anxious to get back to pre-pandemic life, 2021 will continue to be an unpredictable ride, with experts saying to expect the unexpected and hone your security policies, procedures and general prowess to adapt to today’s challenges.
“Security habits are a skill, just like anything else. If you’re going back to school to refresh your flying skills, it’s also time to brush up on your security skills.”
Kristopher Cannon Owner, Aviation Secure USA
Kristopher Cannon, owner of Aviation Secure USA, says now is a good time to “retool, rethink and remember,” as security habits might be dulled or lost entirely during the COVID-related down time.
“This is the time to regroup,” said Cannon. “Security habits are a skill, just like anything else. If you’re going back to school to refresh your flying skills, it’s also time to brush up on your security skills.”
Here are some current risks that require some additional attention and mitigation in 2021.
Civil Unrest, Here and Abroad
What city will be the next to experience civil unrest in the form of protests or rioting? This used to be something Americans considered when flying internationally, particularly to developing nations. Now, flight crews should have a plan in the event of civil unrest at any domestic destination.
Moilanen says to employ the techniques previously recommended for travel to less-stable regions, including a plan to deal with communications blackouts, having a pre-planned rally point, and developing extraction plans for passengers and crewmembers.
“Stay in a hotel near the airport. Don’t go downtown. Civil unrest tends to take place downtown by business and government buildings.”
Eric Moilanen President, Premier Corporate Security, Inc.
“Stay in a hotel near the airport,” said Moilanen. “Don’t go downtown. Civil unrest tends to take place downtown by business and government buildings or where the initial inciting incident occurred, which is seldom near the airport.”
While airport hotels can be boring, having the crew near the aircraft can not only keep the crew out of harm’s way, but can help them to quickly respond to a need to extract passengers.
Beware Insider Threats
The COVID pandemic and ensuing financial crisis created a perfect storm for insider threats.
“Last year was a brutal year for families and companies,” said Moilanen. “If you had a stressor that put you close to the edge, 2020 pushed you over.”
Challenges with family finances, stressing about kids’ education at home or at school, and just the uncertainty about how long the pandemic and anxiety will go on have made people more vulnerable, whether to outside influences that could lead to theft of company data or property for profit, or internal emotions that can lead to workplace violence.
“So often, after an insider threat event, we hear, ‘I knew something was wrong with him or her recently. They seemed ‘off’,” said Moilanen, emphasizing it’s important to pay attention to your colleagues. Be concerned about their welfare, and if something seems wrong, ask them.
On the Road Again
Since the pace of travel is ramping up again, brush up on your travel-related security skills, in general.
Think for a moment of your evening routine at home. Do you check all door locks and windows on the first floor, then set the house alarm system before bed? It’s easy to become complacent. Maybe you check the front door lock but decide the alarm is too much of a hassle and only set it when you’re away. If you ever have had a break-in, you’re much more likely to set that alarm every night.
“People often learn new security procedures when an event hits close to home,” said Cannon.
Pilots tend to stay at the same brand or type of hotel, which can breed complacency. These hotels become “home,” sometimes leading to the same relaxed security practices we sometimes use in our own homes.
Remember the crew travel basics:
- Check your room door lock for proper functionality
- Verify that any sliding doors actually lock
- Keep your bags near you in the lobby
- Stay together as a crew at the front desk
“When we takeoff, we’re flying as a team, so don’t leave your team in the lobby. You’re still a team,” said Cannon, who reminds clients to keep in mind that hotel personnel can always get in your room. For that reason, he recommends swapping keys after check-in so even the hotel staff doesn’t know which room each crewmember is in. He highly encourages this sleight of hand when traveling with female crewmembers.
Be aware of your surroundings and stay aware throughout your trip. Even on longer stays, don’t let complacency – or alcohol – cloud your judgment or make you lose situational awareness. Know where your other crewmembers are, and stick together at night. Most importantly, don’t establish patterns. Take a different running route each day, and leave for meals at different times and to different restaurants, for example.
The invulnerability attitude, to which anyone can be susceptible (“It won’t happen to me”), can make a person an easy target while traveling. Cannon says to confront this type of behavior directly, adding, “There are more near-misses in our lives than we can ever imagine.”
Continuing COVID Impacts
The uncertainty of COVID restrictions requires some additional consideration. Yes, you should review and understand each destinations’ restrictions prior to departing, but sometimes that isn’t enough.
Changes occur frequently and with little notice. In the U.S., restrictions often change under emergency authority without any formal rulemaking process or public notice period. The same applies to restrictions regarding entry to foreign countries.
For this reason, Doug Carr, NBAA’s senior vice president of safety, security, sustainability and international affairs, suggests you plan for an extended stay when conducting international operations. Be sure your passport has some unused pages and is valid for six or more months. Hopefully, your trip goes as scheduled, but last-minute changes to COVID entry requirements could leave you stranded.
The COVID pandemic pushed back the compliance date for Real ID, which was recently extended to May 2023 and should alleviate some near-term travel concerns.
Follow IT Best Practices
“As we rely more and more on our electronic devices, work with your IT professionals to be sure personnel working from home and traveling crews are able to protect sensitive company data,” said Carr.
This might mean using a Virtual Private Network (VPN) or even using “burner” (disposable) cell phones or other devices, depending on the risk level of a specific destination or organization.
The mad rush to work-from-home practices at the start of the pandemic didn’t necessarily allow time for full risk assessments of many employees working from home networks, sharing internet access, printers and other devices with family members. Now is a good time to assess that risk, if you haven’t already, and work with your IT experts to put practices in place to protect your company’s sensitive data.
Enhance Your Security Knowledge
Finally, invest in your team. Security training required by regulation and the TSA typically doesn’t address anything outside the direct aviation environment – the aircraft and the airport. Seek training and educational opportunities that address the entire business aviation operation. These courses can help aviation personnel recognize their own vulnerabilities and increase their situational awareness while on the road and at home.
“We need to focus on protection of crews to increase their situational awareness and empower them to operate in a way that is safer and more secure for the whole team,” said Cannon.
Live flight tracking is another serious security concern for business aviation. Consider enrolling in two FAA programs designed to address privacy and security concerns for aircraft: the Limiting Aircraft Data Displayed (LADD) and Privacy ICAO Address (PIA) programs. Both offer opportunities to reduce active flight tracking by prying eyes.
The LADD program – the successor to the Block Aircraft Registry Request (BARR) program – was developed, in part, to address privacy and security concerns regarding the availability of ADS-B Out data. Aircraft owners and designated representatives may submit requests to the FAA to limit aircraft data shared through FAA data systems.
LADD requires aircraft tracking vendors to:
- Demonstrate their ability to block display of aircraft data from their public display systems
- Block from public display aircraft registration numbers, call signs or flight numbers included on the FAA-provided LADD list
- Not display historical data for any aircraft registration or call sign while the aircraft is included in the LADD list
LADD only addresses the use of data through FAA data systems. Non-FAA, third-party data sources are able to capture ICAO aircraft addresses directly from ADS-B Out transmissions. To address privacy concerns about access to this data, the FAA has created the PIA program, which allows operators to use alternate, temporary ICAO aircraft addresses that aren’t tied to an operator in an aircraft registry.