Amongst the manifold global challenges aviation security is confronted with, Munich Airport has identified key issues that reflect core challenges for the sector:
“The world is falling apart.” It is striking and alarming how often this expression is used to describe the current state of the world. International security, geopolitics and long-lasting, stable and successful elements of the international order, such as NATO and the EU, are more volatile and in danger than ever before since the end of the Cold War. The international community is faced with multiple crises and conflicts and in dire need of sustainable solutions and feasible, yet resilient instruments. Syria and the Middle East experience brutal wars, massive violation of human rights and the collapse of stabilities that had been fragile for decades. The crisis in Ukraine and the relationship between NATO and Russia are far away from being removed from the international agenda since battles have become more intense in Eastern Ukraine again in the last months. Above all, the threat of international terrorism dominates huge parts of the world, torpedoes efforts to ease tensions and further destabilizes countries such as Libya, Afghanistan, Iraq, Mali or even Turkey. As a result, the largest number of refugees ever is crossing and passing countries and continents. Beyond that, international achievements like the European Union are confronted with unknown consequences in reacting to those challenges. Right in the center, aviation security is under enormous pressure, what is cruelly shown by events like the shooting of MH17 in Ukrainian airspace or terrorist attacks on European airports. The complexity of global problems requires ever more consistent, transnational and sophisticated measures in order to minimize and manage multifaceted risks for aviation.
In the past, planes and airports were well-chosen targets of terrorist attacks. Not only 9/11, but also recent attacks like in Brussels or Istanbul demonstrate that civil aviation has become a high-value target for terrorist attacks. After every case of attack, there are politicians, media or academic experts urgently demanding a better exchange of information and a closer cooperation of all relevant players. A quicker and better organized information sharing process would make it easier for responsible protagonists to implement effective security measures more quickly and, thus, increase aviation security. Incomplete information, an inconsistent information system, the lack of personnel and differing legal standards, meanwhile, impede an effective information sharing process.
When we talk about airport security, what comes to mind is mostly the question of safety procedures on the ground. However, a strong cyber security system is more than essential, too. In 2015, an FBI security expert was arrested after having claimed to have accessed the airplane’s control system through the in-flight entertainment system. Flight security systems are an increasingly attractive target for hackers and terrorists. Consistent standards and security measures on a national and international level are indispensable in order to prevent global aviation from such attacks. According to the SITA Airline IT Trends 2016 Survey, 91% of airlines plan to invest in cyber security programs over the next three years. The level of commitment to cyber security reflects the consensus that a lot is being done in this area, but there is always more to do. The focus on cyber security also reflects the move to the ‘Internet of Things’ (IoT). This enables tracking, data collection, analysis and control, which also necessitates more security. According to the survey an overwhelming majority of airlines (68%) will be investing in IoT programs in the next three years.
Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) are increasingly used in the field of aviation, be it for business or civil use. Drones seem to be a new, attractive hobby to a rising number of enthusiasts and, more important, a seminal business case, particularly for global logistic companies, such as Amazon or DHL. But this causes also new problems and difficulties for aviation security that need to be addressed. German flight security estimates that in 2016, an impressive amount of 400,000 drones were in use. A survey by YouGov says that 60% of the German population fear a rising security risk by the use of drones – an important topic that needs to be addressed urgently by all relevant players in the field. Regulating the use of UAVs in the proximity of airports and insurance questions caused by deliberate or unintentional accidents with planes are important issues that have to be addressed properly. The European Union and national governments have already started the regulatory process, yet many questions remain, especially in order to push future technologies and innovation.
Airports are widely seen as essential part for the functioning of a society and economy. They are critical to all types of social and economic activity and therefore need special protection and protocols to keep them up and running in case of emergencies. These could be vast and cover everything from sabotage, acts of terrorism, cyber-attacks and accidents to natural disasters. Due to the amount of potential hazards there are numerous safety and protective measures in place – ranging from logistics and transport to personnel and technical safety procedures to simple cement barriers at the road to stop approaching cars. Usually, the steps that are undertaken to secure critical infrastructure are divided into four main categories. First, constructing physical defenses against intruders by access control systems or standoff distances. Second, providing redundancy through backup of data and a second power source. Third, the rapid repair of damage, because a quickly reparable system is less valuable for an attacker. And fourth, if possible, relocating the infrastructure to safer areas. Protecting an airport takes foresight and action before an attack occurs, on the other hand, aviation security practitioners have a deal with incalculable risks and uncertainties.
Talking about risk prevention, we tend to focus on major developments within our day-to-day mindset. But what about highly destructive events with tremendous implications that may stand at the longer end of the probability curve, but might just as well come true at one point? Such high-profile, hard-to-predict and rare events of large magnitude and consequence are often called “Black Swans”. The Black Swan theory was developed by the Lebanese-American risk analyst Nassim Nicholas Taleb who regards almost all major scientific discoveries, historical events and artistic accomplishments as „black swans“ — undirected and unpredicted. He gives the rise of the Internet, the personal computer, World War I, the dissolution of the Soviet Union and the 9/11 attacks as examples. In times of groundbreaking innovations, disruptive technologies and a world in turmoil, black swan events can have a major impact on critical infrastructure like airports and aviation security as a whole. Therefore, it is necessary to think outside the box, discuss possible measures against incidents and threats that are very unlikely to become real, but also to deliberate about where and when it might even be smarter not to intensify security measures or safety processes in order to stay more efficient and flexible as a system.