Securing the future
How can the region's super-developments protect themselves against the threats to global airfreight volumes?
It is a well-known fact that the Middle East is witnessing unprecedented levels of expansion in almost every sector of aviation.
Not only are passenger numbers and freight volumes the envy of traditional Western economies, but ever-increasing fleets and the construction of gigantic airports regionwide mean that we are witnessing the birth of what politicians and planners are hoping will be the central hub of global aviation in the decades to come.
And it's not hard to see why: abundant liquidity, a strong geographical location and significant space in which to build facilities have generally been complemented by a long-term vision that envisages the region obtaining a lion's share of global traffic in the future.
Whether the Gulf can live up to the ambition of its aviation executives is, of course, subject to a number of key concerns. The region is to a degree insulated by excess liquidity and it is impossible to tell whether recent blips in the local exchanges are down to a combination of the slow summer months and the upcoming holy month of Ramadan, which inevitably means that business processes will take longer to complete. In many respects, there is little that individual companies can do to offset these sorts of fluctuations.
However, another future issue was highlighted at the Dubai Airport Show in June, with many executives fretting about the fact that the new generation of airport mega developments is set to provide challenges to aviation security in the region - with freight being touted as a particular area of concern.
Cargo security is an issue that has been examined in some detail by industry body IATA. The agency has worked closely with organisations such as the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) and the European Union, as well as national regulators to produce best practice and assurance systems for the airfreight industry.
"At an operational level, a big threat is the lack of harmonisation across borders, which exist in national air cargo security programmes," says Steven Lott, IATA's head of communications for North America.
"Having different requirements in different countries, some of which are inconsistent, some of which are contradictory, will result in substantial confusion and significant unnecessary cost for stakeholders."
A lack of harmonisation, as indicated by Lott, stems from a lack of communication between countries. Given the inherently global nature of aviation, it is clear that closer ties between airlines, national governments and industry partners is key to warding off future threats.
"We would urge global operators to consider working closely with governments and industry, through existing national mechanisms such the UK's Security and Resilience Industry Suppliers Council (RISC), where they exist, to develop strong public-private collaboration on security matters," argues Hugo Rosemont, a policy adviser on security and resilience for the UK-based Society of British Aerospace Companies Ltd (SBAC), a trade association representing suppliers to all aspects of the British aviation sector.
"Government leadership is essential and industry's input is also critical when delivering the systems and technologies that operators may require to mitigate identified threats."
Rosemont's assertion is one with which the UAE's largest carrier, Emirates, certainly agrees. "Harmonisation - or the development of security controls and communications intended to harmonise regulations and requirements across states - is essential in securing cargo supply chains across the region and globally," explains Dr Abdulla Al Hashimi, Emirates' divisional senior vice president for group security.
"It is perhaps the lack of these measures which is the biggest threat to airfreight, as the chain is only as strong as its weakest links." As a case in point, Al Hashimi is happy to confirm Emirates' very close relationship with Dubai Civil Aviation and Dubai Airport Police, which ensures all cargo leaving Dubai has the appropriate security measures applied.
In addition, the airline also invites external auditors to inspect its systems, enabling it to attain Transported Asset Protection Association (TAPA) and ISO 9001 accreditation.
However, IATA's Lott disagrees with the suggestion that greater volumes are a hidden scourge for the airfreight sector. "We would disagree that growing volumes change or increase the threat," he argues.
"Our advice is to routinely ensure good throughput planning, thus ensuring that capacity exists to properly handle increased volumes in a timely manner with competent personnel and if bottlenecks are identified, to proactively anticipate and manage them. Sound and practised contingency planning is also essential."
But what are the greatest threats currently facing the industry? It is, of course, difficult to plan for the exact nature of a potential threat, but it seems pertinent to examine those key areas that those wishing to disrupt traffic might wish to target.
• The UK's national trade association representing companies supplying civil air transport, defence, homeland security and defence
• Represents over 2600 companies, helping them develop new business globally, facilitate innovation. Also provides regulatory services in technical standards and accreditation
• Useful links:
British Aviation Group: http://www.britishaviationgroup.co.uk
Department for Transport's Transport Securities and Contingencies Team: http://www.dft.gov.uk/pgr/security
At the June Airport Show, one of Abu Dhabi Airports Company (ADAC)'s top executives remarked that increasing volumes were a result of rapidly expanding airports, requiring faster aircraft turnaround.
"This combines to create larger targets for interference, and, as a result, is destined to cause greater security risks," observed Ahmed Al Haddabi, ADAC's vice president of safety programme and airports security, during a keynote speech made at the show.
Since 9/11, the issue of aviation security has become crucial, and various incidents - including a missile attack on a commercial passenger jet leaving Mombasa in 2002 and an attack on airport facilities in Glasgow - have brought the issue even further to the fore.
While SBAC's assessment of today's situation does indicate that it is for the individual national governments to establish the extent and severity of security concerns, it seems clear that terrorism plays a key role in planning for the future.
"Current trends suggest that the threat posed by international terrorism is likely to be sustained and remain severe in many regions of the world for several decades to come," says Rosemont.
"Industry will aim to assist governments mitigate the full range of identified terrorist threats towards the civil aviation sector, which may vary from repeat suicide hijacking attempts to the possibility of hostile man-portable air-defence system (MANPAD) or cyber attacks on commercial aircraft, for example."
In order to combat this variety of threats, various new technologies are being implemented, although there seems as yet to be no approved list.
"Some technologies have better capability than others, but there is considerable inconsistency in terms of which types are approved by regulators for use," explains IATA's Lott.
"We would like to establish a list of equipment types, which are approved, affordable and widely available. Many of the most potentially useful technologies are not for screening but serve to make consignments tamper-evident or seal trucks carrying cargo considered to be secure."
However, regional operators are also looking at ways to contain security concerns while at the same time ensuring that business progresses as normal and revenue levels are not affected.
"As the new Cargo Mega Terminal [in Dubai Cargo Village] comes online, we are naturally looking at ways to ensure the integrity of the supply chain while minimising the impact on business opportunity, known as Ã¢â‚¬Ëœone-stop security' within the supply chain," says Al Hashimi.
"Providing secure cargo is properly protected, no further screening or inspection (e.g. during transhipment) should be required, and we are also looking at RFID, GPRS and GPS technology to best serve our needs in addition to the already well-established security controls."
From an international perspective, the multitude of new technologies being made available is remarkable. The UK's air industry is the second-largest in the world - after that of the US - and as a result, its security implementation protocols are considerable.
Although the Department for Transport has responsibility for ensuring the security of cargo in transit, British aviation activity is also enforced at the international level through comprehensive EU legislation, and such moves are permanently ongoing.
Further security proposals were announced in May this year and a new bill is introducing a range of new provisions designed to enhance security and improve multi-agency collaboration at UK airports.
In addition, the country is a recognised leader in the manufacture of security detection technologies such as x-ray and other explosives-detections systems, and British companies are currently working on anti-missile defence systems for commercial airlines.
Furthermore, on the passenger side, UK firms are also developing Ã¢â‚¬Ëœpositive profile' passenger screening mechanisms and behavioural pattern recognition techniques to ensure maximum security resources when dealing with high personnel volume scenarios.
"A programme in canine olfaction is also improving the performance of dog teams, introducing novel techniques such as remote air sampling," indicates SBAC's Rosemont.
"This system involves air samples being taken from sealed freight which are then interrogated by specially trained dogs to strengthen the capability to detect explosive material."
So, with the growth of the region's airport cities, it is clear that both the security threat and the potential technologies operators can use to combat this threat are both evident.
On the airport city level, harmonisation, defence in depth, surveillance and access control are theories that will play an important part in keeping the Middle East's airport giants secure. Amidst the roll-outs of ever more sophisticated technologies, however, the presence of the individual on the ground will remain crucial.
"Beyond the specific security measures that are implemented, there needs to be a security awareness and alertness amongst all staff in the facility," concludes Emirates' Al Hashimi. "The human factor plays a very important role in the Aviation Security Ecosystem and cargo security is part of this environment. This is where training and education will play an important part."
• Some of the most notable tools to assist member airlines with security are IATA Operational Safety Audit (IOSA) and IATA Safety Audit for Ground Operations (ISAGO)
• Security Management Systems (SeMS) provides a cohesive framework for security management and forms on the basis of the security checklists in IOSA and ISAGO
• Useful links: