AeroTime exclusively from Sydney | A globalized world also means globalized threats. This aspect is significant within aviation and is understood by the industry. Aviation safety is in the first line when it comes to facing emerging international terrorism. Meanwhile, another threat emerges with electronic warfare and the next deadly bomb might as well be cyber. To discuss the matter, three actors of aviation safety have been invited by IATA for their World Air Transport Summit in Sydney.

As the discussion moderator Andrew Stevens noted, every year aviation witness a new security-related issue arise. In 2017 it was personal electronic devices, after the U.S. forces uncovered a plot set up in Yemen by Al-Qaeda that intended to use weaponized laptop computers. In 2018 the threat is powders (radiological, chemical, and biological). On top of that, there are ongoing threats such as cybercrime, the threat of insiders, security on the ground and the export of terrorist capabilities from high-risk areas to lower risk areas.

Adapting to a global threat

In August 2017, a plot to detonate a military-grade improvised device in an Etihad flight from Sydney was defused. The components of the bomb were transported by plane from Turkey. The plan was followed by a second plot in which terrorists tried to build a chemical dispersion device.

For Mark Shield, Group Head of Security at Virgin Australia Airlines, Sydney threat came up as a surprise. Despite knowing some individuals were potentially radicalized on the Australian soil, their level of preparation was unexpected. The next step resulting from this episode will most likely be for the government to ban powder-like substances aboard commercial aircraft.

International terrorism asks for cooperation on every level between concerned authorities, airlines and airports. As Hololei points it, aviation safety works as a global system. If the threat takes advantage of a weaker link, the whole chain is compromised.

The digital menace

The second threat that aviation will be facing is cyber security. For Hololei, it is important, in aviation in particular, to see the two sides of the same coin, cyber safety and cyber security. “If you penetrate the system of an aircraft, it is also very much a question of safety”, he commented. The problem however is imposing a rigid regulation on cyber security. It is a domain which is evolving fast, and by the time legislation is enforced, new threats have already emerged. According to Shield, a survey conducted in the Pacific region on cyber criminality showed that it took on average a 172 days for a company or an official authority to realize its system was breached. “The future [of cyber security] is moving away from us pretty quickly,” commented David McLean, Commander at the Australian Federal Police Crime Operations.

Big data as a solution

Handling of data will be unavoidable for the future of aviation security. Following Paris terrorist attacks, Charles de Gaulle airport (CDG) proceeded to an exceptional background check of its employees. Usually, the checks are carried out every three years. However, as 70 out of the 85,000 employees saw their security badges revoked, it shows once more how fast radicalization can happen. That exceptional check could not have been possible without the help of the French police. The authorities provided their “fiches S”,  a database on potentially dangerous people currently under special scrutiny (mainly political and religious extremists, and hooligans). Such collaboration will help airports keeping up to date with the increase of traffic. Global air transport is expected to double in the next fifteen years, which also means that airport will have to double their efficiency in security checks. This will both rely on technology and cooperation with other entities.