EgyptAir hijacking a wakeup call for aviation security awareness

Although the hijacking of an Egypt Air Flight MS 181 turned out to be a lover’s quarrel, the fact remains that there is a high degree of nervousness regarding commercial aviation after a number of terrorism incidents involving aircraft and airports. Social media was flooded with angst and disbelief over today’s incident only to be followed by nervous joking. But this incident is not a laughing matter in today’s hyper sensitive environment.

This latest incident may raise questions about the safety and reputation of Egypt’s air industry, which is still reeling after a bomb on a Russian passenger plane on October 31, 2015, killed all 224 people on board. ISIS claimed responsibility for bringing down the Russian A321 passenger jet over Sinai, which was bound for St. Petersburg.

Two employees at Sharm el-Sheikh Airport were arrested on suspicion of assisting those who planted the explosive device on the Russian jet that crashed in Sinai. An investigation showed that Sharm el-Sheikh Airport had many gaps in security, such as lax searches at the entry gate and poor quality of scanning devices. Seven officials involved in security at Sharm el-Sheikh Airport, several with more than a decade’s service, told of lapses.

It should be noted that Egypt is upping its security precautions at major airports with more careful procedures and protocols being implemented. That’s good news given past problems with Egypt’s airports and airlines. In 2004, Flash Airlines Flight 603 took off and crashed from Sharm El-Sheikh killing 135 French nationals. The findings of the investigation were disagreed upon by the investigating countries including terrorism claims by a Yemeni group versus mechanical failure.

Before that incident, EgyptAir Flight 990 crashed into the Atlantic Ocean about 60 miles (100km) south of Nantucket Island, Massachusetts, killing all 217 people on board. The official “probable cause” of the crash was deliberate action by the relief first officer.

Not only does civil aviation need to treat every air hub as a potential target with enhanced security precautions but also employees and passengers need to be observed not by profiling but by behavior

Dr. Theodore Karasik

Of course, the ISIS attack on Belgium’s Zaventem Airport is still fresh in everybody’s minds and reverberations are continuing. Air hubs across Europe stepped up security measures amid the attacks in Brussels for the foreseeable future. The security error at Zaventem Airport is clear: No screening or portals into the arrival area of the airport for explosives or weapons. Too many other countries have experienced this weakness and the bad guys know how to exploit these security lapses. There is no doubt that all airports need to implement stringent measures on a global scale not only in arrival areas but also departures.

Russia learned fast that such gaps are necessary to fix after the Domodedovo International Airport suicide bombing in January 2011 in the arrival area. These Russian commercial aviation safety measures should be seen as a gold standard for all international airports. Currently, many airports lack such protection. With the low price of oil, airlines should be contributing more to the safety of the air hubs that they use.

Mental incapacity

Unfortunately, civil aviation is becoming a target not only for extremists but also for people with mental health issues. The best example, besides Egypt Air Flight 990, is Germanwings Flight 9525 in March 2015 when co-pilot Andreas Lubitz reportedly committed suicide by killing 150 people with him. Extremists are also seen, by some scholars, in the same light, in terms of a severe mental incapacity.

In both the cases, depressive symptoms fall squarely into the health arena. We know that any form of depression is associated with negative sentiment, including a sense of hopelessness, worthlessness and helplessness. Such an outlook can fuel thoughts that crime, violence, and suicide is a solution. Depression can also leave people feeling irritable and aggressive. Even a lover’s quarrel can potentially hurt dozens of people potentially. With the anti-climactic end to today’s Egypt Air Flight MS 181, there should be a sigh of relief.

Nevertheless, the preverbal genie is out of the bottle: civil aviation needs to up its game against acts of malice or intent to harm. Not only does civil aviation need to treat every air hub as a potential target with enhanced security precautions but also employees and passengers need to be observed not by profiling but by behavior. A 50 percent solution based on complaining about cost is a debate of the past.

A new method is required for a more robust, comprehensive due diligence, and common sense, and consistency with airlines and ground personnel to work seamlessly together. No more stovepipes where information is compartmentalized literally to death. In addition, new technologies are available that boost biometrics to new levels of sensitivity to help weed out potential troublemakers. To be sure, no systemic approach is 100 percent perfect but the more effort given, the better for the rest of the flying public.

Unfortunately, all of the above is the sign of the times.
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Dr. Theodore Karasik is a Gulf-based analyst of regional geo-political affairs. He received his Ph.D in History from UCLA in Los Angeles, California in four fields: Middle East, Russia, Caucasus, and a specialized sub-field in Cultural Anthropology focusing on tribes and clans. He tweets @tkarasik

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Last Update: Wednesday, 20 May 2020 KSA 09:50 - GMT 06:50
Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.
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