Uplink ALPA - The Voice of Aviation

The New Zealand Air Line Pilots' Association Newsletter. As of April 2020 Uplink ALPA is a 6-monthly publication.

Technical Update

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‘Security Threat Levels’ are low, but dangerous times remain....

With much written about the state of international relations and global security, NZALPA Senior Technical Officer and NZALPA Security Coordinator, Dave Reynolds, provides an update on the reality of New Zealand’s level of ‘Security Threat’.   

We continue to enjoy a comparatively low ‘security threat level’ here in New Zealand.

However, it is important not be lulled into a false sense of security by this fact. A stated ‘low threat 'level’ does not mean there is no threat - it actually indicates our security services are not currently aware of a threat, but one can always be expected!

Aviation continues to remain an attractive and obvious target for a terrorist attack – and very real threats have been close to home.  In July last year, what Sydney police described as "one of the most sophisticated terror plots attempted on Australian soil,” was thwarted when authorities became aware that an alleged improvised explosive device (IED) had been built under instructions from a senior Islamic State (IS) controller in Syria.   The device was to be planted in the luggage of a brother of one of the accused on the Etihad flight out of Sydney on 15 July 2017.

This incident served as a poignant reminder that we are not immune from such attacks in this part of the world. Our isolation geographically must not be perceived also in terms of aviation security threats.

The message from government threat analysis and intelligence services has been loud and clear -there will continue to be challenging times ahead as aviation rates highly on the terrorist priority list. 

The world has already witnessed the shocking ingenuity of terrorists’ in producing innovative means of bypassing aviation security, such as concealing IEDs in shoes, liquids, laptops and mobile phones. Terrorist organisations are reported to be now calling on their followers to use whatever means that come to hand – quite literally – to cause the most terror and mayhem possible.

However, like the Sydney operation discovered, planning and orchestrating aviation attacks can be complex and this makes them vulnerable to official detection. Using what comes to hand is simple. Knives, as we know from the Blenheim event aboard an Eagle Air flight several years ago, are a simple but effective means to create fear and disruption on an aircraft.

Therefore, maintaining a Security Culture - keeping eyes and ears on alert for unusual activity in and around the airport remains key.  Simple, common-sense activities should be common place and part of all operations, however informal.   For example, ensuring airside access doors are not left open or bypassed by people ‘shadowing’ others, is an important measure.

Aviation insiders remain a significant threat. These can be described as radicalised persons, either enabling access for others or themselves carrying out an illegal and deliberate act. As a result, as well as more comprehensive background checks, we are likely to see further improved screening processes both airside and landside.

But as aircrew and the travelling public, we must continue to play our part - “If you see it - report it” continues to be a very relevant phrase in aviation security.

However, the ‘complex attack’, although vulnerable, is far from dead. Cyber-attacks are one of the greatest threats we currently face in air transportation. Given our reliance on them, attacks to bring down or disrupt networks are a powerful tool. The corruption or ‘spoofing’ of Global Navigation Satellite Systems (GNSS) and/or Air Traffic Management (ATM) networks could have potentially devastating effects.

Further reliance on such technology must also be matched by resilient backup systems as a result.

New Zealand’s recent Domestic Security Review has resulted in the deployment of additional mitigation such as the enhanced screening of hold baggage, and the further increase in airport security efforts, particularly at our regional airports.

We will no doubt see further tightening of security as new threats evolve.

For optimum security, human relationships are key.  NZALPA benefits from our excellent relationship with IFALPA’s Security Committee, a major conduit for us on global, regional and evolving security matters, as well as providing information on recently perpetrated attacks.  NZALPA is also viewed nationally as a significant stakeholder in aviation security, with good working relationships with the Government’s Aviation Security Service (AVSEC) and the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA).

It remains a sobering fact that we, as aviators, continue to wear the target. As a result, we have a vested interest in aviation security matters. Let’s all ensure we continue to play our part in maintaining the integrity of New Zealand’s aviation security system in an alert and proactive manner.

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