As official news partner for Intersec, we’ve been taking a close look at the key themes in aviation security in the Middle East and the role the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) plays.
The aviation sector in the Middle East is having to adapt to rapid change on two fronts: rapid growth in aviation traffic which is putting pressure on existing infrastructure and a changing global security stance which is forcing Gulf countries to adopt new security practices and technology.
First, the rapid growth in air traffic in the region is unprecedented. Airports in the Gulf region are expected to be handling 450 million passengers a year by 2020, a number which is expected to grow by 5.2 per cent a year until 2030, according to the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO). This translates into an estimated 2.6 million aircraft flights through the region, equivalent to over 7,000 flights each day.
To ensure the infrastructure in the region can cope with this dramatic growth, countries in the region are taking big steps to address the issues, including restructuring its air traffic control system along the lines of the EuroControl system (which coordinates air traffic over Europe), expanding overall airport capacity and developing a regional, cooperative structure for security management.
Meeting demand for airport capacity has required the investment of billions of dollars to expand existing airports and build entirely new ones. $32bn is being invested in the Al Maktoum International Airport, $7.8bn in the Dubai International Airport and $6.8bn in the Abu Dhabi International Airport, with dozens of other airports getting lesser but still significant investment.
All of this is creating the need for a significant investment in aviation security.
Meanwhile, the second factor leading to greater investment in aviation security in the Middle East is the requirement to adapt to the changing global security environment.
Post-9/11, Western countries worked hard to fix the deficiencies in their aviation security networks, especially as they related to transits between Western countries and also between Western countries and non-Western countries.
Policies, procedures, training and technology were developed to deal with the new requirements and these were implemented over a number of years. However, as security improved in these countries, aviation traffic to and from the Middle East was growing apace and it became increasingly apparent to the rest of the world that the Middle East had become the new weak spot in the global security network.
These security concerns were addressed as part of a series of meetings organised by the Middle East region of ICAO to tackle the wide range of concerns that were being created by the rapid growth in aviation traffic in the region.
Agenda item six at the first meeting of the Directors General of Civil Aviation in the Middle East (DGCA-MID) region was aviation security. Presented by the United Arab Emirates, it called for joint cooperation through the exchange of expertise and cooperation in improving search methods. It urged member countries to make optimal use of modern technology in airport security and to share expertise.
However, not everyone agreed that aviation security was a problem in the Middle East. In its submission, Sudan conceded that everything had changed post-9/11 but complained that Arab countries were being hit by one security requirement after another.
“Looking at the rapid-fire developments in aviation security in connection to the implementation requirements placed on Arab countries and in keeping up with events, we find that no sooner do we achieve one requirement are we faced with another,” Sudan said. “As a result we find ourselves lagging behind the developed countries.”
It rather pointedly said that comparing crime rates and aviation security in the Middle East with the rest of the world, Arab countries enjoyed far fewer incidents, a result of the “moral values and noble traits of our peoples”.
It continued: “However, as ICAO members, we cannot ignore what is happening in the world around us. As crimes in aviation security are transnational, the organisation put in place a strategy for aviation security in 2006, which we – as countries – have not put into effect.”
Sudan’s presentation focused on a number of points for the development of aviation security in the region:
1. Development of a roadmap to aviation security and a comprehensive regional survey to establish the position of Arab countries;
2. Building relationships among member states to establish regional cooperation;
3. Continuous training and sharing of expertise;
4. Creation of an audit team for regional aviation security;
5. Linking security bodies in the Arab region into a joint operation;
6. Creation of a mid-term security plan to create a framework in which each state can develop its own plans.
Also present at the meeting were representatives of the Arab Air Carriers Organization, which focused its submission on the need for comprehensive training and standards. In particular, it warned that airlines, airports and governments should not initiate individual plans but rather lean on regional and international organisations “which would guarantee harmonisation and integration of requirements and processes across the whole industry spectrum”.
By the second meeting of the DGCA-MID in May 2013, ICAO had established the Cooperative Aviation Security Programme – Middle East (CASP-MID) to promote a regional approach to aviation security. The ICAO secretariat urged all Arab states to participate in the CASP-MID programme to strengthen aviation security in the region.
Currently six states are enrolled in CASP, with a further four working towards enrolment, possibly as soon as the first quarter of 2015, according to CASP-MID Chairman and Acting Undersecretary for the Bahrain CAA, Ahmed Nemah.
CASP-MID’s objectives are to improve the regulation and enforcement of aviation security in individual states, especially those that require some assistance in achieving certain standards, and the creation of a regional structure to promote cooperation.
“Our role is to conduct seminars and courses, and bring experts to further the knowledge and enhance the culture of aviation security… During 2014 we have delivered many internationally-recognised courses and seminars to the major stakeholders here at the airport, to civil aviation employees in Bahrain, and to the member states of CASP,” Nemah told the Bahrain News Agency.
“Aviation security itself is completely different than public security. We in aviation – in any system, being passengers or airports, safety or security – work in a systematic way. That system we apply in Bahrain is of a similar standard, and is applicable to the UK, America, India or China etc. so that’s why these programmes are important,” said Nemah.
Suppliers agree that aviation security is a special topic, as Gaetan Desclee, Country President for Securitas UAE, says:
“This desire for security only multiplies when we are talking about aviation. Specialised aviation security training and good communication help keep flight schedules running smoothly at an airport – without compromising security. The need to comply with and stay up to date on multiple sets of overlapping regulations – plus the regulations of the security industry itself – as they are continually strengthened, is one reason why aviation security has become a highly specialised field with dedicated security forces. Each airline works according to international civil aviation rules, the local country’s regulations and the regulations of its home country,” he said.
“That’s important, since a delay at the gate can translate into a missed take-off slot, which in turn can lead to a missed landing slot and thousands of dollars in jet fuel wasted by circling an airport. If the delay is long enough, there are additional costs to the airline in rebooked flights for missed connections – and very angry passengers. Nevertheless, security is always a priority, no matter what the pressure,” Desclee concluded.