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Upscale Aviation Security
By Dr. H.H.A. Cooper

"The real train of knowledge isn't a static entity that can be stopped and subdivided.
It's always going somewhere."
- Robert M. Pirsig

Aviation security is never a static entity. It is always going somewhere. To the instructed eye, it sometimes appears to be traveling backwards. This area of security has always been strongly driven by economics. It has also fallen victim, on occasion, to both complacency and hubris. Curiously, the primary focus of aviation security has always been the commercial sector. Certainly, that is where, largely, action has been in the past. Yet the real vulnerability, in both quantitative and qualitative terms, has been in the area of general aviation. That this has not yet been exploited, as might have been expected, ought not to lull those accustomed to riding the train of knowledge as well as the occasional corporate jet. Recent developments in this field prompt another look at a subject that has remained largely dormant since that far-sighted seer, David Hubbard, directed his tiny spotlight upon it some two decades ago.

The company airplane is no novelty of our times. This sturdy workhorse, in all its many metamorphoses, has long ferried the captains of industry and commerce from one business deal to the next, easing the tedium, shrinking the globe, and providing its own useful measure of status to the powerful and privileged. But in the conspicuously ostentatious '90s, the private, customized aircraft has become the principal status symbol of the Rich and Famous. From a security perspective, nothing can be more dangerous than blatantly advertising wealth, and, cavalierly, exciting envy. The '90s axiom 'If you have it, flaunt it,' is not merely vulgar, it is the competent security director's nightmare. Aviation, by its very nature, is highly vulnerable. Why make things easier for the bad guys by flying in the face of the wise injunction to keep a low profile?

The December, 1995 Vanity Fair, (an indispensable source fo the savvy business intelligence professional), carries an article entitled "Jet Compulsion". It is unusually informative and calculated to send cold shivers down the spine of anyone entrusted with the security of the jet set. It details many of the habits and the preferences of the favored few able to indulge their fancies with these expensive toys. And for those too lazy to read the entire text so as to figure things out for themselves, the article has a concise list of Who Flies What? What is set down, here, is truly a mouthwatering array of alluring targets and upscale aviation. Is it really reasonable to suppose that only the good guys and gals read Vanity Fair? Nor, it must be pointed out, is this investigative journalism of the kind designed to dig out what others would wish to keep hidden. This is a kind of boastful showing-off on the part of those who collaborated with the author in putting this piece together; 'my' plane flies farther and faster than yours; is more luxurious; unique; more me than anything you (poor thing) might have dreamed up! These stellar moguls and celebrities would be aghast and, perhaps, even disdainful were it pointed out to them how they might be contributing to their own victimization. No good security professional would need any such instruction, the evidence speaks for itself.

Those who have familiarized themselves with developments in aviation security over the past three decades will be in for a real surprise on reading the body of the article. The received wisdom of the security-conscious '70s recommended the removal of all, nonessential identifying features from general aviation at risk. Corporate entities dutifully removed their logos and other distinguishing paintwork. While it was never all that difficult to identify an IBM or a TI corporate aircraft these sensible measures did make it a little less easy for potential mischief-makers. Now, these prudent trends have been reversed in the most exaggerated way possible. What is now being essayed by customizers and those who engage their services is truly astounding from a security perspective.

We are seriously told of "the painting of a new GIV-SP owned by Nike in black, red, and gray, the colors of the company's new sneakers; the underpart of the fuselage will be painted to look like the sole of the shoe." Great advertising, and surely the IRS will be satisfied as to the business purposes of the venture on that account alone. But this is not the Goodyear Blimp. This is a highly sophisticated, long-range aircraft capable of carrying valuable, vulnerable loads of human beings to far-off parts on a regular basis. Should they also be so obviously noticeable? There are, sadly, places in this country where people have been brutally murdered to steal the latest Nike products from their feet. Were security considerations never taken into account in this matter? Or is this, to parody the old nursery rhyme simply the case of an executive who always wanted to live in a shoe, because he had so much money, he didn't know what to do?

The pantheon of personalities, whose deals and doings are regularly set forth on the glossy pages of Vanity Fair and, often enough, depicted on its covers, are an alluring target for terrorists and common criminals alike, amateur or professional. Targeting is not some arcane art. It faithfully obeys the old, succinctly stated Willie Sutton principles: it's where it's at that counts. Nowadays, the sumptuously appointed corporate or private jet is, often enough, where it is all at, and highly visible to boot. Were these hard targets, such advertisement, though risky, might be pardoned on account of the protection provided. Expert appraisal offers no such assurance. Personal and professional tragedy awaits; Murphy's Law guarantees it.

This is not idle doomsaying. It is shocking degradation of security. Perhaps Tinseltown simply does not care, but the rest of corporate America should. Security directors and managers of protective services are among the hardest working executives in the modern business world. They rarely welcome challenges having the effect of making their jobs even harder. They are often responsible for seeing to the protection of some of the wealthiest, highest paid talent in this country, a priceless national resource. They are unlikely to have been consulted by the brilliant customizers, and interior and exterior decorators of today's jet set. But they should be. Those unwilling to learn the lessons of history are condemned to repeat the semester. If they are still around.

H.H.Cooper, President, Nuevevidas International, Inc., Dallas, Texas has been actively engaged in the field of aviation security for more than 20 years. He is vice President and Certification for A.S.E.T.

Copyright © 2003, Executive Protection Institute