Why Aviation Security Is A Deadly Serious Matter
The diplomatic spat between India and Canada has brought into focus the bombing of Air India flight 182, called the Kanishka tragedy, which had taken off from Canada for India, on 23 June 1985.?
My readers asked me how someone could plant a bomb on board, and whether such a risk exists today.?
I will explain, sticking only to the aspects of aviation security.
In those days, the security at the airports was not as tight as it is today.
Who looked after airport security at that time??
Many countries opted for private contractors, but in India, the trusted local policeman was the choice.
During the 1980s and 90s, the Indian police were neither trained nor equipped to deal with terrorism, so the incidents kept repeating.
In a tragic and bewildering incident, the terrorists who planted the bomb themselves called and warned the police—thrice—and yet there was confusion and inaction till the bomb exploded at Chennai Airport in 1984.?
India had created a Bureau of Civil Aviation Security (BCAS) in 1978, but it was small and had a limited role. They enlarged it in 1987, almost 2 years after the Kanishka tragedy in 1985.
Too little and too late, you think? Not quite.
In the US too, they formed the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) only after the 9/11 attacks, but they did it in just 2 months.
We seem to learn from tragedies and try to plug the loopholes only after the incidents happen, but that is the basic nature of any warfare.?
Defence is always reactive and offence is proactive.?
A terrorist decides the specifics—time, place, and the nature of the act, while the saviours must always be alert, constantly on the lookout for anything suspicious.?That is why the airlines have this list of items you can and cannot carry in your hand baggage (also called cabin baggage) and checked-in baggage.?
A friend’s daughter was carrying a can in her purse. The security lady asked her to remove it and drop it into the bin. She obeyed, but with an overly sad face.?
A moment later, another security lady, possibly also saddened by the waste of a perfectly usable perfume, picked it up and innocently sprayed it on herself—and mayhem ensued.
That was pepper spray!
Today, all bags and cargo must go through x-ray machines. This was not the case in the 1980s.?
Most airports now have sniffer dogs to detect non-metallic explosives, and some have full body scan machines.?
You have seen your hand baggage being x-rayed. Checked-in bags undergo screening too. In smaller airports it may happen in front of you, and in larger ones, they do it at the backend.
If you deplane after boarding, in some countries, they will make you wait at the airport until the airplane lands. In others, where they are confident of tracking you, or if the flight is long, they might let you go home. And they will always carry out anti-sabotage checks in the airplane, no matter what your reason for deplaning.
Governments have also strengthened laws to discourage hijack attempts.?
Yes, matters of security are deadly serious.
After the hijacking of Indian Airlines flight 814 in 1999, the Indian government considered handing over the security of Indian airports to the Central Industrial Security Force (CISF).?
Nothing happened for two years, again!?
Only after the 9/11 attacks in 2001 were they given the task nationwide.
While hijackings continued the world over, there has not been a single serious security incident in Indian civil aviation since 1999.?
That proves the dedication of our security agencies.?
Next time you see long queues at the airport, remember, that is the small price we must pay for our safety.
The writer is a former fighter pilot of the IAF and is now a commercial airline pilot. He is the author of three novels and many blog posts, available at?www.avinashchikte.com