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In every nation, civil aviation sector is a significant part of the national critical infrastructure. As a means of transportation, this sector is always at risk from the terrorists and extremists. The 9/11 attacks on the United States’ civil aviation industry demonstrated the extent to which terrorism can cause damage to the economy of a country and mass murder of innocent individuals (Elon, 2004).
These attacks were a big blow for the Americans. On the other hand, the 9/11 was a celebrated victory for the Al-Qaida and the enemies of the US. The terrorists proved that airliners can be turned into powerful missiles. It is approximated that the terrorists used up to $500, 000 in planning for the attack and wreaked a damage costing trillions of dollars.
Equally, in the year 2006 the hijackers with homemade liquid explosives were arrested preparing to launch an attack on the UK’s aviation industry (Price & Forrest, 2009). Unlike other risks, such as the use of explosives, use of ranged weapons, and vandalism of aviation infrastructures, hijacking activities are easy to plan.
Equally, it is extremely hard to identify hijackers from the other passengers in the airport security checkpoints. This article focuses on hijacking as a threat to civil aviation industry.
The threat posed by hijacking
Globally, Aircraft hijacking is considered an unlawful act that attracts severe penalties (Abeyratne, 2010). As such, this activity is usually associated with terrorism activities. This illegal activity does not only pose serious threats to the passengers and the aviation industry but also to the people on the ground. The main objective of hijackers is to intimidate, rather than to steal.
Hijackers usually plan to use the plane travelers as their hostages. They usually threaten to explode or crash the plane if their demands are not met. These criminals habitually demand money or other favors in substitute for the safety of the passengers. A time, criminals take over an aircraft with the aim of compelling the pilot to land at a place of his or her choice to avoid arrest.
In the past, the civil aviation industry hijackers used minor weapons such as knives and metal bars to subdue their victims. However currently, aircraft hijacking has become very sophisticated. As such, modern hijackers use sophisticated weapons and sometimes explosives.
Because several screening devices have been installed in airports’ security checkpoints, more hijackers are making use of technology to smuggle weapons or explosive into the airliners. For instance, a number of hijackers in the past used to smuggle gun parts independently into airliners. These parts would then be assembled into a complete gun inside the airlines.
With advancement in screening technology, hijackers have moved away from smuggling large weapons to smuggling smaller and lethal weapons such as homemade explosives. These explosive would be used in threatening the passengers, the pilots, and the crewmembers, as the hijackers carry out their motives.
Hijackers are able to smuggle homemade explosives into airliners because the development in technology and increase in regulations have led to the development of more sophisticated and less detectable explosives. An evaluation of the developments of threats to aviation industry indicates that incidences of hijackers smuggling explosives into planes explosives should be given serious consideration.
According to Transportation Security Administration, hijackers smuggled homemade explosives into planes than other weapons because they can assemble them with ease, and its parts can comprise of materials that usually appear harmless to nonprofessionals (Feakin, 2011).
The Transportation Security Administration asserts that homemade explosives IEDs are the best choice for terrorists targeting governments’ infrastructures. In the past, it has been difficult to detect these explosives at the airport checkpoints because different hijackers bring IEDs’ parts into the airlines independently.
When hijackers arrive at their target, they can assemble these parts into an IED evading detection at the checkpoints.
Apart from the fact that hijackers favor IEDs than any other explosives, it should be noted that a number of these explosives have become very small such that they can be smuggled inside the airliners inside water bottles, perfumes and luggage (Price & Forrest, 2009). By so doing, it becomes extremely difficult to detect these explosives.
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There are several instances where hijackers have smuggled homemade explosives into passenger planes. In the 1990s, extremists in Philippines smuggled homemade explosives into a passenger plane and detonated it killing several passengers. During the year 2012, in China, two men were arrested for trying to hijack a plane. The two hijackers had earlier smuggled explosives into a plane.
They were arrested when they tried to break down the cockpit to assess the explosives. Unlike the contemporary explosives, homemade explosives recipes are very easy to follow and an individual with little or no basic skills in chemistry can comprehend. Equally, the explosives produced from this approach are very destructive analogous to contemporary explosives. In addition, homemade explosives can be easily detonated.
Usually, a plane is hijacked with the aim of obtaining a ransom from the government, company, or individual. However, in the year 1968, a plane was hijacked for the first time by terrorists who were after fulfilling political motives. A plane from Rome to Tel Aviv was taken over by three terrorists.
The terrorists were from an extremist group called front Liberation of Palestine. The group diverted the plane to Algiers from where they ordered the government of Israel to release its members who had been taken as prisoners in return for the release of the passengers. The government of Israel had no other choice but to abide by the terrorists requests.
After the 9/11 attacks a new motive of the hijacking emerged. The world realized that large passengers and cargo planes could be hijacked and used as powerful missiles. The hijacking of the US airliners on September 9 in the year 2001 by terrorists identified as belonging to the al Qaeda portrayed the vulnerability of the civil aviation industry (Hillstrom, 2012).
On the same day, two other targets known to the world as prominent infrastructures of American power and prestige were attacked. These infrastructures were the twin towers of the world trade center and the White House, which escaped attack when the plane planed to attack it crashed in Pennsylvania. Some few years prior to the attacks, al Qaeda agents entered the US and planned for the attacks.
These agents choose the most fatal and practical means of achieving their goals. They planned to hijack large cargo planes and use them as weapons because they contained large amounts of explosive fuels. 14 months before the attack, the agents went through intensive flight training courses in preparation for the attack. By September that year, the terrorists were ready to launch their attack.
On the morning of 9/11, the agents hijacked four airliners. These airliners were from Boston Logan International Airport, Newark Liberty International Airport, and Washington Dulles International Airport.
It was estimated that the subsequent hijacking of the four planes took place in 43 minutes allowing the US air forces little time to counteract. Three out of the four hijacked planes were crashed into the US infrastructures several minutes after takeoff. The aircrafts were crashed into the World Trade Centre and the Pentagon.
Civil aviation industry response
With the increase in technological advancements, it would not be a surprise to find that hijackers may come up with sophisticated methods to avoid being detected by conventional security devices. Therefore, the civil aviation industry must come up with innovative ways to counteract the hijackers’ intentions.
Globally, several security measures have been adopted to detect suspect hijackers, runaway criminals, weapons, and homemade explosives at various security points in the civil aviation industries. Usually, civil authorities are urged to adopt the Render Safe Procedures to thwart hijackers from boarding their airliners.
The unexpected and indisputable focus on hijacking passenger planes and crashing them into buildings in the recent past, made the civil aviation industry to realize that they needed to upgrade their security measures. Therefore, the 9/11 attacks by the terrorists and were a wake up calls to the global aviation industry to step-up their security systems.
The United States’ regulatory bodies and civil aviation industry acknowledge the threat posed by hijackers. All the regulatory bodies agree that the surest way of avoiding aircraft hijacking is to put in place measures that will deter hijackers from boarding the planes. They have come up with measures to counteract these threats.
As such, they have developed numerous security layers, which will obstruct the planned attack. According to Transportation Security Administration, the United States safety layers in the airports comprise of the reservation process, airport security, security checkpoint, and airplane security (Lord, 2011).
The reservation process layer comprises of computer-aided traveler pre-screening system, no-fly lists, and safe -flight. On the other hand, the airport security layer comprises of explosive sniffing dogs, police officers, biological and chemical detectors, and CCTV.
The security checkpoint layer comprises of screening devices, enter pass check, recognition check, metal detector, mark out portals, luggage screening, confirmed luggage screening, and secondary screening devices. The airplane security layer is comprised of federal flight deck officials, reinforced cockpit gates, federal air marshal examination, trained flight team, and the travelers.
Following the United States’ implementation of the above security measures, several countries have adopted similar measures with the aim of averting hijackers, bomb attacks, and other aviation threats (Price & Forrest, 2009). Similarly, the above security measures offer intelligence on the potential terrorist attack.
Other than providing intelligence, these security measures also offer appropriate and efficient means of counteracting hijackers, bomb threats, and other attacks.
Because terrorists will continue to advance their hijacking technology, the civil aviation industry and the relevant authorities must embrace technology and intelligence as a means of thwarting threats or attacks. It has been alleged that the 9/11 attacks occurred because of failures of intelligence organs. This illustrates that intelligence is a vital facet that should be used in counteracting aircraft hijackers.
Intelligence and Technology are inseparable and should always be used in solving civil aviation threats. For instance, the use of technology when an individual is booking a ticket can inform the intelligence services if the client is in the most wanted list.
Equally, efficient and modern metal and biological detectors should be employed to aid in intelligence. Apart from technology and intelligence, every employee in the aviation industry must be watchful and aware of their surroundings. Through this, they will be able to detect suspicious individuals or items and report them to the relevant authorities.
Despite the fact that developed countries have stepped up their efforts to counteract hijacking of planes, it should be noted that our airliners, citizens, and other aviation infrastructures in developing countries are still facing greater threats (Berrick, 2007). In the Global South, aviation industries have not put in place inadequate security measures.
This implies that terrorists and other extremists still have chances of hijacking our planes in these countries. Therefore, the developed countries should work together with the other countries especially in the Global South in coming up with interventions to thwart terrorists from attacking aviation infrastructures.
Unless international cooperation is adopted in the civil aviation industry, our airspaces are not going to be completely safe because terrorists can hijack foreign registered airplanes and use them in reaching our airspace.
In conclusion, it should be noted that civil aviation industry faces enormous risks from being attacked by the hijackers. Hijackers usually plan to use the plane travelers as their hostages. They usually threaten to explode or crash the plane if their demands are not met. These criminals usually demand money or other favors in substitute for the safety of the passengers.
Hijackers can turn airliners into powerful missiles with the use of homemade explosives. Currently, the civil aviation industry acknowledges that hijacking poses serious threats to their sector. Unlike other threats, such as the use of explosives, use of ranged weapons, and vandalism of aviation infrastructures, hijacking initiatives are easy to plan. Equally, it is extremely hard to identify hijackers in the airport security checkpoints.
Since several screening devices have been installed in airports’ security checkpoints, more hijackers are making use of sophisticated technologies to smuggle weapons or explosive into the airliners. For instance, a number of hijackers in the past used to smuggle parts of guns independently into airliners. The smuggled weapons are later used in subduing the hostages.
Internationally, several security measures have been adopted to detect hijackers at various security points in the civil aviation industries. The latest attempts by the terrorists and extremists were a wake up calls to the industry to step-up their security systems. As such, the United States has developed numerous security layers, which will obstruct the planned attack.
Similarly, Intelligence and technology are inseparable and should always be used in solving civil aviation threats. The use of technology and intelligence should not be enough because hijacker can find means of bypassing them. Therefore, every employee in the aviation industry must be watchful and aware of his or her surroundings.
Through this, they will be able to detect suspicious individuals or items and report them to the relevant authorities. Lastly, the developed countries should work together with the other countries especially in the Global South in coming up with interventions to thwart terrorists from attacking aviation infrastructures.
Abeyratne, R. I. (2010). Aviation security law. Berlin: Springer.
Berrick, C. A. (2007). Aviation security federal coordination for responding to in-flight security threats has matured, but procedures can be strengthened.. Washington, DC: U.S. Govt. Accountability Office.
Elon, J. (2004). The aviation security system and the 9/11 attacks staff statement no. 3.. Washington, D.C.: National Commission on Terrorist Attacks upon the United States.
Feakin, T. (2011). Insecure skies challenges and options for change in civil aviation security. London, England: Royal United Services Institute.
Hillstrom, K. (2012). The September 11 terrorist attacks. Detroit, MI: Omnigraphics.
Lord, S. M. (2011). Aviation security TSA has enhanced its explosives detection requirements for checked baggage, but additional screening actions are needed : report to congressional requesters.. Washington, DC: U.S. Govt. Accountability Office.
Price, J. C., & Forrest, J. S. (2009). Practical aviation security: predicting and preventing future threats. Amsterdam: Butterworth-Heinemann/Elsevier.