29 Aug 2014

Modern threats to airliners and the world at large

Less then a month ago a second massive tragedy struck Malaysia Airlines; flight MH17 was shot down after the earlier disappearance of MH370 in March of this year. Both airliners were popular B777 widebody, international aircraft. The first, a mysterious situation, which may never be fully resolved and the second an act of criminal murder. Of the second, we may never know the identity of the perpetrators. We do know they used a sophisticated modern anti-aircraft missile system supplied by, or on loan from Russia and either operated by, or at least supervised by well-trained Russian military (or ex-military) personnel. Was MH17 targeted specifically, an indiscriminative act of violence, or a major tactical error with global consequences? Is this a new global threat that should keep us up at night? Aviation industries and the flying public are definitely at risk, but far less likely now from an event similar to the tragedy over the Ukraine. The shoot down of MH17 is tragic and inexcusable. That said, in all likelihood it was a black swan event – high impact, impossible-to-predict, and exceedingly rare. Western governments have been reticent to share these types of high altitude anti-aircraft systems with client states or surrogates, for good reason. During the Soviet war in Afghanistan the United States, provided Stingers, shoulder-launched anti-aircraft missiles, to the Mujahedeen, which turned the tide of war against the Soviet Union. Subsequently the West scrambled to retrieve those very weapons before they could be used against civilian aircraft. Stingers, unlike the system used to shoot down MH17, can only strike aircraft at altitudes up to about 14,000 feet. The Russian SA-11 Buk system used in the Ukraine can strike up to and above 70,000 feet, well beyond maximum altitude of all civilian aircraft. Sent from Russia, and ostensibly under control of militia separatists, the Buk was used to intentionally (or unintentionally) kill innocent passengers on an aircraft flying at 33,000 feet on a heavily used air-transit route. Given the outrage and response of the United States and Europe to Russia over this event, it is unlikely they will entrust militant groups with these weapon systems in the future. The MH17 tragedy has likely made air travel more secure (not less) from this particular threat. In reaction to the MH17 shoot down many pundits have advocated for robust defensive countermeasures being installed on commercial airliners. This is an unrealistic and counter-productive response. No systems currently exist that can protect large vulnerable commercial airliners from Buk-like weapon systems. What does exist, and is far more realistic and productive, is a robust capability to assess new and emerging threats and risks. That said, the airline industry matured around a culture of safety and operational excellence not security threat analysis. This was articulated in the founding documents of the airline industry with the Convention on International Civil Aviation (Chicago Convention) December 7, 1944: Whereas … its abuse can become a threat to the general security… upon which the peace of the world depends. Conversely the Intelligence Community developed robust threat and risk analytical practices with little expertise or understanding of commercial airline operations. Today’s emerging threats are less from super missile systems controlled by highly trained personnel and more from the conflicts raging at ground level when airliners overfly the region. Anti-aircraft weapons in the hands of failing states (Syria, Iraq, Libya) and extremist groups (Islamic State of Syria and the Levant (ISIL), Hamas, others) can not reach the altitude of transiting airliners unless those airlines suffer a mechanical malfunction that forces them to make an emergency landing at the nearest “suitable” airfield. Radically

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03 Apr 2014

Former Blackwater man buys 49 pc of Phoenix Aviation

“Ex-Blackwater CEO and former US Navy Seal Erik Prince has deepened his involvement with Kenya’s aviation industry with the acquisition of a 49 per cent stake in Phoenix Aviation. Frontier Service Group Ltd, of which Mr Prince is the chairman, announced it had invested about $14 million (Sh1.2 billion) in one of the oldest Kenyan aviation companies in a bid to increase its footprint in the country.” Source:Former Blackwater man buys 49 pc of Phoenix Aviation – Corporate News – businessdailyafrica.com

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