This article was originally published in Professional Pilot Magazine in the December 2001 edition.
The author - Robert Seaman is the President of AvAd Inc. and past Chapter Chair for the CBAA. His expertise in this area is based upon involvement in the operation and management of FBOs and business aircraft operations as well as the line service and FBO training programs that he facilitates.
Any business professional will tell you that traveling with the commercial airlines is the one key thing that can and will mess up your day or trip. Even before the events of this past September, business travel by airline was tedious, unpredictable and most importantly placed the traveler outside of that most precious and personal element of control!
Corporate aviation became the god-sent solution for many company travelers on the go. Saving time (which most of us can never find enough of), privacy, security and most important - control - have long been the biggest and best benefits to business aviation. The image of the "corporate barge" and Austin Powers airborne brothel has long since been dispelled. More firms have come to understand and utilize private aircraft as a key tool for time and specific cost savings.
As the use of corporate aviation has increased, the required support and service environment has evolved. Many still remember the early days of corporate aviation, when business aircraft shared ramp space with commercial or cargo carriers and likewise lounges, hangars, fuel services and customs or at the other extreme little private flying clubs in out-of-the-way hamlets.
The eighties and nineties saw the true evolution of our industry as oil companies and entrepreneurs developed the FBO system into that which we know and enjoy today. One of the leading elements to this whole scenario is that business aviation is intimate as needed, lacks certain formalities and is most definitely focused on making life as easy as possible for passengers and crews. Programs like the recently suspended GATE and CANPASS had further enforced the open skies between the USA and Canada and the common ease with which we went about our mutual business.
If you have traveled with your corporate aircraft abroad, you know that the way we do things here in North America with our FBOs is quite different. First, whereas the majority of our facilities were purpose designed and built for the role - offering vast amenities, open access and a "community" atmosphere - the majority of their counterparts in places like Britain and the continent have always been different. Second, while these offshore FBOs are increasingly becoming similar in layout and appearance to those that operators from this side of the "pond" are used to, security considerations have always played a bigger and more established role. Personal scanners and baggage checks are and have for a long time been the norm as is strictly governed airside access. Exposure to risk and overall threat awareness has always been greater in these places. Coupled with that is recognition of the accessibility that smaller, business aviation airfields can and do provide as feeders into the larger national airport network.
Some say that the system in North America is naive and long due for a change. Others view it as privileged and that the freedom we all enjoy is representative of our entire lifestyle, success and mindset. Corporate aviation as a category has been built on the basis of aircraft operators knowing the company that they keep - and traditionally that put the onus for checks and security on the aircraft owner/operator as opposed to the FBO, customs or airport authority. Until the changes that took place in September, GATE and CANPASS further developed the "trust" factor and informality of biz av travel.
With vehicles going right onto the ramp and up to the aircraft, there have been few if any opportunities to utilize the sort of security/scan systems in place at national airports or as can be found at European and British business airports. In most cases, FBO operators are very rarely even aware of who the passengers on a flight are. Up until now, it has been rare to see any formal screening procedures that involved scanners, severely restricted ramp access or an obvious security presence at most general aviation facilities throughout North America. The only formality or procedure for most sites has been a series of cameras on long-play recording cycles, fences and electronic gates that separate the airside environment and the non-aviation community.
While FBOs have always been encouraged and tasked with keeping their environment safe and secure the fact remains that their training and liability has focused on fuel delivery, customer service and hangar or ramp movements. The gates, restricted doors, cameras, and pass-lock systems in place at most FBOs do not really ensure security. Many of the mechanical pass gate systems currently in use are slow to open and close and poorly monitored - meaning that non-authorized vehicles can and do gain airside access. The average FBO employee works under the assumption that if someone drove through the gate with another vehicle, they obviously had a right to. In addition, many is the time a well intentioned employee or tenant at an FBO propped a door open or bypassed an alarm so they could gain quick or repeated access to the hangar. Some even unthinkingly allow people they don't even know to enter with them. These examples represent a security risk and the opportunity for someone who is looking for ways to infiltrate the airside environment to do so relatively unchallenged.
Business aviation is an industry that has always been very proactive and dedicated to furthering its own interests in a self-determined manner. For the most part, governing bodies like the FAA and Transport Canada have encouraged this. The question today is where should a flight department or FBO turn for help regarding security consultation and safety? The need input in making correct and sound decisions that are business wise, security smart and globally executable while helping refine and develop their business without adding unsound or unrealistic operational stress.
If you look up Security Services in the NBAA Products and Services section of their web site, you find a total of 38 listings. Of those, many are manufacturers of products that support or supplement aircraft and facility operations - like cameras, alarms, pass-locks and the like. These represent part of the solution to how security can and will change. Others listed provide a unique or specific service - again part of the mix but not the entire solution. Basically you can count on one hand the number of companies that provide a comprehensive or inclusive security service focused specifically to business aviation.
Charlie LeBlanc is the managing director of Air Security International Inc. (ASI). ASI started its corporate life providing support and service to the business aviation clients of its sister firms in the Air Routing International group. They have since grown beyond being exclusively aviation service providers and are now one of the most respected and comprehensive providers of corporate and private security/intelligence services to the business community. While their client base may have grown to encompass many different industries, they have continued to be an important and strategic part of business aviation and developed and built their own unique client base.
At ASI they pride themselves on having the knowledge and hands-on experience to find answers to a challenge and frequently create custom solutions to each client request. Their key management team represents expertise in both aviation operations and international security - so they know of what they speak. The result is a collection of services that cover traditional needs like personal security, intelligence for building travel plans, various options for ground transportation and extended products or services that include training, safety and emergency planning, global communications and even crisis management. Over the years they have forged relationships with both aircraft manufacturers and some notable corporate operators. Even the media have turned to them for input - most recently CNN and Larry King Live being just two examples.
Needless to say like anyone in the security business, Charlie has been a very busy guy lately. In speaking on how services like ASI can aid business aviation he has lots to say.
"Know before you go is a phrase we use a lot around here. It means be prepared, be informed and keep yourself protected at all times. Where we come in is to help people do just that - either through information, products and services or training."
When you ask him how he thinks corporate aviation should be thinking and acting, LeBlanc says this: "Having a corporate security plan and being likewise minded is not new. But the whole thought process and mental attitude required to work effectively and yet efficiently with this sort of thing is a learned and acquired skill. The key is to have a planned and published structure that everyone on your team knows and that will help corporate travelers be informed, aware and as much as possible protected yet still be able to go about conducting their business and affairs effectively. It's not hard but it does need to be addressed and in some cases trained for - before it is needed. That is where firms like ours come in. In our own case, we have the advantage of being part of a larger organization that provides a lot of services to business aviation operators. This makes it easier for us to become involved - we have limited the learning curve by already being in a position of knowing the market, the needs and most importantly having the intelligence and understanding of the issues on a region by region basis."
In talking with someone like Charlie, one thing becomes quickly clear. Many corporate operators never hesitate to call a group like Air Security International when they are leaving this continent and heading overseas. As for security at home - well it's home and so why need it? As Charlie LeBlanc says, "Pre-flight security in some form at FBOs will become the norm. But just the use of simple products like the Air Security International SecureKit seals on aircraft doors and access points, offices and parts or tool areas can help operators with the peace of mind that they have controlled and secured their operation."
As to how and where he feels the direction for change and refinement of security should be coming from, Charlie offers the following opinion: "I have no doubt that the governing authorities from local to national levels will play a bigger role in how we all work and behave in the aviation environment. One thing is very certain - forget how things were done in the past - this is a whole new game. Our industry needs to be part of the process that builds the new systems and procedures if we are to get a protocol that works to our advantage. For our part in this, ASI has been working with some FBO operators at their facilities and corporate flight departments to help improve their overall system. We start by performing a site review and look at the current training and preparedness of their staff. Overall what we are looking for is how to compromise the security of the site and gain access. We look at how the facility is secured, where it is accessible, what security monitoring devices are in place and where we could get further access to if we did make it to the inside environment. We look at how we could compromise aircraft, infiltrate fuel supplies and breach parts areas to generally contaminate or violate the area. We then review what security back- up is accessible in the event of a forced access and also how well versed the staff are, at all levels, about whom to call, what to do and generally what if any emergency plans of action exist. That gives us a starting point from which to address and implement changes and training."
On that note, LeBlanc is quick to talk about the latest product from Air Security International. Working proactively and with input from the NBAA and FAA, they pooled resources to jointly develop a new training program aimed at both FBO operators and corporate flight departments. According to LeBlanc: "Like any of our programs, the aim here is to make people aware and have them prepared to continue their lives and jobs in an enlightened and effective manner. It would be very easy to just sign them all up for a program like our WorldWatch web based intelligence service, send a video tape program or place security guards on the people and aircraft 24/7 - but that is not realistic, effective nor in most cases practical. The best way to develop a security mindset is to train participants to act and think differently. To be successful means incorporating these things into their lives in such a way that they become routine. And our experience has clearly shown that being able to talk, listen and interact in a seminar or classroom environment is the best way to achieve this."
Charlie continues: "Because every operation is different and every situation unique, all of our security and corporate protection programs recognize this and can be customized to fit the unique needs of the specific end users. Our FBO/Corporate Aviation program focuses on keeping things safe on the ground, around the aircraft and within the context of the business aviation world. Using a classroom style seminar format allows us to cover a lot of material with multiple participants. This provides a base from which operators and FBOs can look at themselves and become pro-active in making the changes that will better protect them. It basically helps put the whole issue of control back into their own hands - and that is what we focus on doing - help people protect themselves and their business through control."
The NBAA have already shifted a lot of resources and attention to security issues. Air Security International has long been associated with presentations and seminars at recent NBAA conferences and events. Demand for these sessions has always exceeded availability so they are also making programs like the FBO/Corporate Security course available in some key regional conference training facilities for individuals or small company groupings. This will enable more people to receive the benefit of the program and attend the classroom style course without the necessity and cost associated with extensive travel. In addition to these presentations, ASI also brings their courses to a client site and conducts the program to a closed audience - making the event company specific.
A program like this is intended as a first step forward and for many will start them into a new and enlightened way of viewing their world. As unique and beneficial as this can be, full benefit will best be achieved if flight departments and FBOs review all the elements of operational security - and that means having a third party assessment or audit. Why? Because someone from the outside looking at your aircraft, set-up, field or facility for the first time will see things differently than you may. And more importantly, if the person doing the looking for you is trained in security preventative measures, then they just naturally see things differently from you.
Business aviation has a great contribution to make to companies and individuals - helping them find workable, realistic solutions to the challenge of business travel in a global economy. At this time more than any other our industry needs to grow and support itself through intelligent, forward thinking that addresses all needs and interests - especially those of safety and security. Many companies are reviewing business aviation travel with corporate or charter aircraft for the first time. The opportunities to attract, prove and grow all facets of this industry are better than ever. As the defining interests and security focus of the people corporate aviation services and supports changes and evolves, FBOs and corporate operators need to be armed with options, information and assistance to keep and preserve personal and corporate well being. Like any service industry though, credibility only gets one chance - especially with first-time users. Keeping the whole picture clear and current - especially that of security and safety - will ensure success and continued use for everyone associated with business travel. If you view security as a nuisance, skimp over it or assume it does not affect you, then you compromise the entire system and ultimately that of the industry. It only takes one incident to change everything. Companies like Air Security International are doing a great deal to help ensure that the business aviation community gets the best opportunity to succeed.
For more information about Air Security International and its products and services, contact them by telephone at: (713) 430-7338.or visit their web site at www.airsecurity.com.
Rob Seaman is the President of BASS Inc. (Business Aviation Service Solutions) - a firm that provides various contract services to support corporate aviation operations, training and development. He is also Co-Chair of the CBAA Ontario Chapter.