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Waypoint: Changes on the horizon

Just as we thought things were better in the aviation community, the Christmas Day “underwear bomber” incident sent everything into a backspin.

April 14, 2010  By Rob Seaman

Just as we thought things were better in the aviation community, the Christmas Day “underwear bomber” incident sent everything into a backspin. One unsuccessful terrorist attempt has yet again profoundly and completely changed the day-to-day actions of others. Reaction was hard and swift and new measures were quickly brought into play. On the downside, many feel that Canada may have overreacted and in the process caused unnecessary stress and expense to the travelling public. We certainly were tougher than the U.S. this time.


The truth is that traveling commercially has once again demonstrated its vulnerability. Despite all the changes since 9/11, clearly the process to screen and profile failed. The bad guys can still get into a secure system and have found new ways to do so.

On the upside, business aviation continues to demonstrate its advantages of trusted, timely, secure and reliable transportation. There are some indicators that overall aircraft use, charter ops in particular, has seen a recent upswing as corporate professionals continue to find their time management capability tested with commercial airlines. Some from the bizav community are professing that business as it was prior to the recession could be a reality sooner than expected as a result of this incident. Only time will tell.

One looming concern is that the freedom and ease enjoyed through private aircraft use at FBOs could be challenged and under review sooner than later. We’ve been able to maintain a much more relaxed and trusted environment at private North American facilities until now. In Europe, the situation is entirely different. For some time now, baggage scanning and some form of personal screening have been considered the norm at most facilities. The theory has always been that once you board a private aircraft and travel to another place in Europe or across the ocean, you are in the secure air system and can travel to another airport and board a commercial flight without the likelihood of additional screening. Accordingly, systems and precautions were introduced and accepted by operators and travellers quite some time ago. On the home front, we always suspected the day would come when such security measures would be introduced into the North American business aviation environment. We just never knew when.


The argument against this is that by and large, corporate aviation operators have always had sufficient information on their customers to prove their credibility. It has also been widely thought that a business aircraft is highly unlikely to be used as a terrorist tool. While these considerations may be true, it is becoming more apparent that the people tasked to make policy and decisions on how to protect society, may now be looking for opportunities and vulnerabilities in the FBO system.

One of the early indications came last year, when a Government Cabinet Minister, along with a Senator who is known for his criticism of private aviation in this country, managed to breach security at one of Canada’s largest and busiest airports. Embarrassment aside, these gentlemen managed to prove their point – that the FBO system could provide an opportunity for access to those who should not have it.

Those inside the business agree that if you try hard enough, you can always find an opportunity to access a restricted space at just about any airport. The bottom line – people in aviation in this country need to become more conscientious of their responsibility in maintaining security and access at our FBOs. If we don’t do so with the tools and systems in place today, those in a position to pass judgment and make decisions for us can and will do just that. With all the “talk” and now new terrorist attempts, logic would dictate that change is just a matter of time.

The shame of this is the terrorists have won. How is that? Well, not by inflicting death and personal injury – which would be tragic – but rather by creating chaos and unrest. As we know, their mandate is in part to disturb our peace and order, so once again, the views and issues of a minority have forced the rest of us to adjust our lives.

Rob Seaman is a Wings writer and columnist.


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