Safety and Security Risk Management

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Executive Summary

Aviation industry has faced many challenges that need immediate attention to avert increasing fatalities. This paper provides an insight into main risks/hazards that face the industry with existing mitigation measures. The paper discusses mitigation measures whilst giving recommendations on how to improve security lapses within the circles of aviation. To help with the insight into the industry hazards, the paper discusses six main hazards that pose threat to airplanes and passengers onboard, including the crew. The risk of cyber-attack has been discussed in depth as it is an emerging threat that the industry is not fully prepared to handle. There are recommendations for the six problems in the second part that are in sequel with the problems, each paragraph detailing how to handle a particular problem. Recommendations are followed by the conclusion of the paper with a call for upping of the security apparatus in all ports of entry into the country.


Over the recent decade, air transport has experienced extreme insecurity threats that have led to redesigning of security measures. All transport channels, including road, air, sea, and rail have potential threats that, when ignored, can turn from inconsequential into fatal. Three major causes of air threats are criminals, dangerous cargo, and mechanical faults. The aviation industry is more sensitive to such threats than other means of transport as the magnitude of damage and threat is more significant and may have extreme outcomes. The aviation industry uses airports that are a gateway to countries; hence, they provide an important channel of international connection. The ease of transport is enhanced through aviation as connection to all international ports, both landlocked and non-landlocked, is ensured. With the aim of providing safe services to aviation customers, airports play an important role in contributing to economic growth of both national and international economies. Since the important role played by airports cannot be belittled, it is essential to analyze threats and hazards faced by the industry and initiated mitigation measures to assess their preparedness.

There has been a rapid introduction of modern technologies to curb insecurity and potential hazards in an effort to secure the cargo and passengers. Many airlines have withdrawn from areas where they feel insecure to operate with increased terrorist attacks on airlines. Recent accidents and attacks of aircrafts have led to redefining of airlines security with installation of satellites and other computerized devices. Tragic aviation incidents like 9/11, Malaysian MH17 airline downing, Malaysia Airlines flight 370 that disappeared, Romania Britten-to-Norman crash, AW139 crash of Haughey Air, and TransAsia airways flight 222 crash, all of which happened in 2014 among many others, indicate an increase in the number of aviation accidents. Physical security has been a nuance in the aviation industry where air transport has become a target for organized criminals. It has also become a channel through which weapons, illegal immigrants, piracy, and drugs are transacted. This paper focuses on threats and hazards that are common in aviation industry with a detailed insight into how to mitigate them.

Security Hazards in Aviation Industry

Some of the threats that commercial airlines face include sabotage in the airport and in the aircraft through a bomb, terrorist attacks, hijacking planes, criminal attacks, and carrying of dangerous and hazardous goods. Having a wide variety of hazards surrounding aviation safety, the field has had to be strict in handling its safety measures and implementing them to the letter.

1. Air Accidents

Aviation accidents can occur due to human error, natural reasons, or technicalities. There have been several incidences where mechanical problems have caused accidents like negligence, faulty operations, or breakdowns. The level of disaster depends on the size and type of carriage so that a small aircraft causes a relatively small tragedy as victims involved are few and large carriers cause disasters due to a large number of passengers. Planes like jet fighters and transport planes rarely cause accidents and, when they occur, most of them are within the airfield perimeter or when landing or taking-off. Risks of accidents are eminent as they form the majority of fatalities in the industry. With statistics indicating increased accidents, the industry needs to step up measures to curb the incidents. Mechanical failure was rated second at 22% as the cause of accidents during the last decade with pilot error contributing to 34%. Risks associated with mechanical technicalities are mostly man-made; hence, possibilities of reducing them are high.

2. Cyber Threats

Cyber-attacks are increasingly being targeted towards airplanes with most recent example being the Malaysian Airlines MH 370 that was lost along its airway never to be found. Questions surrounding this form of hazard are whether a cyber-attack is possible on an aircraft with increased security measures installed. Gaining control of the cockpit and on-board systems has been ruled out in the recent past, but now there are possibilities that it can be done. Apart from pilots who can cooperate in hijacking or manipulating digital control of planes, security personnel have presented several scenarios on how planes can be attacked from the cockpit. However, those scenarios have not been practiced or tried as they are difficult to achieve. The Malaysian flight could be the first cyber-attack victim in the aviation industry where criminals could have tampered with the communication equipment that cut short relaying of signals to the control room and satellites. Possibilities include attacks on the on-board entertainment system that can be an easy target through infiltrating the security software.

There has been a hypothesis projected by British experts on anti-terrorism that loopholes exist in the security measures. Further suggestions held that radio signals could be diverted and controlled through small devices, especially for Boeing 777, despite its sophisticated control systems. Any influence on the control system can cause a breakdown in communication line, hence causing disasters. Specialized people with knowledge on how the cockpit and in-flight entertainment system operate can easily manipulate the system to cause an accident or hijack. This happens when the entertainment system is connected to critical control systems of the plane. Plane’s silence indicates a possible manipulation with the communication equipment like turning off radios and Satcom antenna among other communication devices. These disconnections tamper with satellite communication; hence, control is lost, leading to accidents or loss of normal pathways. The following are some possible attack scenarios that need to be monitored:

  • Disabling of circuit breakers to deactivate all communication channels can cause a disaster in the airline industry. This requires a high degree of premeditation with profound knowledge of an airplane to manipulate its communication system. MH370 flight had sent two sets of data to the control room using ACARS (Aircraft Communications Addressing and Reporting System) shortly before disappearing, thus showing a possible attack on its communication system. The fact that Boeing increased its security measures on the 777 series shows prior existence of windows of attacks.
  • Another possibility of a cyber-attack could arise from the entertainment system at the passenger seatback when an expert can create an Ethernet to control flight signals. Previously and still today in some cases, the entertainment system is connected to the critical control system through which access to piloting of the plane can be accessed.
  • Hacking the airplane with a smart device like Android Smartphone is possible. The entire control system of the plane can be hijacked by a smartphone as the “Black Box” security can be interfered with through an exploit framework. This new insight should engage the Federal Aviation Administration and other aviation security bodies to find a mechanism to prevent this attack possibility. Hacking the system allows unauthorized sources to eavesdrop on critical communication, hence manipulating the control system through the Flight Management System (FMS). Accessing the FMS is easy through platforms like eBay where criminals and hijackers can try to manipulate plane systems. With smartphones, other systems like ACARS and Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast (ADS-B) can be manipulated.
  • There are possibilities of jamming attacks on the next-generation flight control system that has been described as vulnerable. Since airplanes use ADS-B systems that are susceptible to jamming attacks, criminals can easily target the control system and cause havoc. There are possibilities like injecting a “ghost” airplane or another machine in the airspace that can interfere with functioning of other planes. Jamming attacks can be directed against the radar where they produce a false signal to the operator, hence guiding operators to give wrong signals. Electronic jamming can happen when a device can jam the communication channel and block the receiver, hence generating wrong information. Repeater and noise techniques form principal methods through which electronic and mechanical jamming can be done, posing a risk to lives and property on an airplane.

3. Laser Pointer Attacks, especially when Planes are Taking Off

There has been an increase in attacks through laser pointers when the crime has reached the amount of 3,700, showing a 1,100% increase from 283 laser pointer attacks in 2005. This is a risk/hazard as it can cause body damage to the pilot, passengers, and people on the ground and the plane, thus compromising security of people onboard. With the figures rapidly rising, there has been a concern that people intentionally commit the federal crime to cause havoc among passengers. Any objection to normal operation of an aircraft poses a risk to people. Hence, trying to blind a pilot or passengers can cause harm. This hazard has been covered with two laws and statutes that limit such crimes.

4. Hijacking and Attacking Airplanes at Airport

This has happened in many airports and on-course when attackers have often demanded ransom to release the plane or perpetrated a crime, using the hijacked airplane. Several cases of hijacking have been experienced annually with nine percent of sabotages and hijackers from 2000 to 2009. The previous two decades had 10% and 12% of sabotages and hijackings respectively, indicating that the amount of incidences has reduced. IC 814, an Indian Airlines Flight 814, was hijacked in 1994 by the Harkat-ul-Mujahideen Islamist group based in Pakistan. The plane was hijacked by gunmen who had posed as passengers and forced the pilot to drive away to the “west” landing in Kandahar in Afghanistan. This is an example of a scenario of hijacking when innocent and unsuspecting passengers were victims of security lapses. With increased hijackings around the globe, security forces need to up their security screening to identify criminals and hijackers. Most hijackings are done in war-torn countries or areas controlled by militias. 9/11 incidence was a case of hijacking when criminals wanted to show their might by attacking the Twin Towers. Similarly to the Malaysian flight, there have been other three hijackings that could prove that the plane has been hijacked. Hijackings of Western airlines by Palestinian militias in 1970, Ethiopian Airlines 961 in 1996, and the recent hijacking of an Ethiopian plane by its first officer to Switzerland are all similar to the recent incident of the Malaysian Airlines flight. Hijackings have resulted in fatalities in most cases as passengers and crew members have lost their lives.

5. Carriage of Dangerous Cargo

Air transport is associated with passengers and cargo. Cargo is classified into dangerous and safe cargo whereby elements like weapons and harmful chemicals are classified as dangerous cargo. The ICAO (International Civil Aviation Organization) safety standard procedures state that all carries, both local and international, should adhere to the protocol in order to ensure safety of crew members and other people onboard. Classified dangerous goods include weapons like firearms, mace, tear gas, pepper spray, gunpowder, and ammunition. Other items include dry ice, electric wheel chairs, fireworks, flammable liquids and fuels, pressurized containers, and other materials that are hazardous in nature. There have been incidences when dangerous cargo has caused havoc. A good example is the Asiana Boeing 747 that crashed into the East China Sea when it was carrying lithium ion batteries posing potential risks to human and aquatic life. Other accidents include the B744 crash in the Persian Gulf after a fire indicator on the cargo deck. Fire in the cargo deck has caused many flight accidents, including DC10 in Newburgh, New York, the USA. The Lockheed L1011 flight in Saudi Arabia killed everyone onboard despite landing safely due to toxic fumes produced seven minutes earlier from the aft cargo area.

6. Airport and Plane Security

Cargo security should be ensured so that incidents like Subang Airport theft of $300,000 gold bars in 1994 could be prevented. Security personnel should also ensure safety of property and personnel at airports where incidents can lead to fatalities. With areas where cargo can be smuggled out of a plane, explosives and other security threats can be implanted into the plane, causing havoc. With security lapses in and around airports, many opportunist groups and militias can seize the chance to extend their terrorist activities. These are scenarios that have happened recently in Ukraine with dawning of the Malaysian flight MH17 in Eastern Ukraine. There have been incidences when criminals have faked their identity to manipulate security at the entry points. For instance, there was a hijacking of an airplane when four attackers belonging to an Islamist group in Afghanistan presented themselves as security guards on transit. This poses a hazard as air transport security is threatened with infiltration of criminals.

Defenses Available to Mitigate the Aviation Risks

One mitigation measure includes separation of the on-board entertainment system from other critical control systems to minimize any attacks through interference with the control system. The overall network of the plane should be separated from other accessible platforms like the entertainment one so that criminal experts cannot manipulate the system. This projected architecture may be connected to other functions, including flight-safety, navigation, and control mechanism; passenger information system; internal airplane systems; and operator administrative and business support.

Loopholes created through the ADS-B and other entertainment measures need to be researched and more research shall be performed on how to minimize attacks through the system. Experts in the cockpit information domain have repeatedly quoted that it is hard to hack the system as it only accesses information from certified aviation hardware. This is an option that can be exploited by hackers. Hence, more efforts should be channeled towards closing these gaps.

Mechanical and electrical jamming can be dealt with through strengthening of ground station control, hence limiting possibilities of such attacks. Collision avoidance in flights control and continuous surveillance have been practiced, but more modernized systems with little or no room for invasion should be installed at every airport and ground control station. It is the congestion in high density areas and attacks on ground station that causes loss of information (signals and messages) resulting to fatal incidences. There are many FMS facilities sold over the internet that can simulate and reproduce cockpit operations. Control of sale of sensitive facilities can achieve a desirable level of security in aviation.

Laser pointer threats have been controlled through establishing the Laser Strike Working Group National Initiative, which ensures that suspects and offenders are punished in line with the applicable law. The Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) has established a special unit to curb incidences that have been described as reaching epidemic levels. There has been introduced a fine of $11,000 or a jail term of up to 5 years. Any activity aimed at interfering with the aircraft operation can amount to 20 years in jail with a fine of $250,000. Thus, the offence has been curtailed through enforcement of the law. At the Sacramento airport where this type of crime has reached a peak, the number of crimes has significantly reduced following judgment and sentencing of such offenders.

There are several ways how commercial air hijackings can be prevented. Mechanisms employed by authorities include isolating the cockpit completely from the passengers’ space. Secure double door system when no one can enter the cockpit without a crew member is the best way of keeping passenger-criminals from ordering crew members to divert the plane. These measures have been implemented by most airplane manufactures, ensuring a secure and out-of-reach cockpit for unauthorized persons. Other possible solutions include fitting planes with parachutes to land safely in case of an attack. Stringent measures for all individuals need to be performed to ensure that all passengers are secure and no one is harmed. There are other measures that aviation authorities take to ensure secure and sane passengers on board. During screening, all important personal details should be taken into consideration in order to ensure safety of all people onboard. In some cases, crew members are perpetrators of crimes with recent examples of the first officer of Ethiopian Airlines who diverted the plane to Switzerland. These measures, if followed well, could minimize the number of hijackings and ensure safety of passengers and cargo.

Handling of classified dangerous goods has been controlled by aviation bodies like the ICAO and the IATA (International Air Transport Association) that controls handling of such goods by designing measures and standard procedures that all air operators must adhere to in an effort to increasing security. The first point of the IATA security screening involves screening of baggage in the holding area, while in some countries like Japan screening can be done three times. The second measure involves ensuring a discrete and direct communication with passengers, especially when unlawful actions are done by passengers. Other measures include erecting physical barriers, clearly marking areas of restriction, controlling aircraft parking areas, and having surveillance cameras at aircraft viewing areas. These measures have controlled incidences of accidents, resulting from accidents with dangerous goods.

Improving security at entry points of a country is also important as airports and sea ports are main entry points. Security measures taken by many government institutions and aviation companies have ensured security at ports. The IATA, the ICAO, and other international institutions have been at the forefront in ensuring security of passengers, crew members, staff, and other people at airports. Proper identification of criminals and indicted persons at the airports should be a priority and any lapses should be minimized. For instance, indicted criminals and Islamists released in India after hijacking of the Indian Airlines Flight 814 to Pakistan participated in several other air strikes and bombings, often using false identities.


Air transport has more insecurity issues compared to other transport means. Besides, compared to sea and land transport, the survival rate is very low in air transport. The statistics from indicates that the majority of air accidents occur due to a pilot error at the overall rate of 53%, with mechanical and weather influence accounting for 20% and 12% respectively. Sabotage and hijackings represent 8% of accidents although they are risks that can compromise security and safety of people in the airport and onboard the plane. There are pilot errors that result from weather and other causes, constituting 1%`of total fatal accidents. From the report above, it is evident that there are increased security threats that can result from cyber-attacks in different forms. Some of these forms are laser pointer attacks, air accidents, hijacking of aircrafts, carrying of dangerous goods, and compromising of overall airport security. There are security lapses at airports with an increased potential of attacks. Recent accidents have involved modern technologies when long-range missiles have been exploited and manipulation of communication devices have occurred to allow hijackings and other accidents to take place.