Evolving with the times
The last two decades have certainly changed the world. When pioneers in corporate aviation like Clay Lacy, started flying Gulfstreams to places like Africa, the biggest concern would be whether there was fuel at the destination and tech stops. Weather and flight plans and fuel were the main issues that faced an international flight crew and their passengers when going on international flights. As times changed, and governments changed, more and more locations became places of concern. In the late 70s and 80s, terrorism struck, but it was centered around major airlines like TWA and if you did not fly to the middle east, you were pretty much safe. There have always been countries like Libya and North Korea that have been off-limits. The world was fairly black and white, with places you could go safely, and places no one was really allowed to fly into anyway.
Our world is evolving. Borders have been opened, and industries are flourishing by maximizing on a global market. Libya is now in the birth pains of freedom, embargoes are slowly lifting in Cuba, and China is one of the fastest-growing economies in the world. There are only a handful of places in the world you can absolutely not fly into, and even those locations are not always one hundred percent off-limits. You can’t charter a US aircraft to fly to Lhasa Tibet, but if you land in Beijing you can book a Chinese operated charter to fly there. Bhutan, a once completely closed-off country is now a very chic resort destination. As these borders open though, a new threat of global terrorism has also been on the move. At one time confined to Middle Eastern countries, the new world threat can strike anywhere, and at any time. There are also countries that are burgeoning markets, which are plagued with lawlessness, like Mexico.
As a private jet traveler, especially on an international trip, you should be aware that you are always a target. By boarding a large corporate jet, you have alerted anyone that wants to observe that you are a person with power that demands privilege. While in civilized societies this is a status that is respected, in some parts of the world this is a status that is envied or viewed as a target for their goals. In Columbia, surrounding countries, and the amazon, kidnapping is the preferred action, and the goal is to catch the biggest game – private jet passengers. In Africa, there are so many threats, coming from every direction; it is hard to even begin. There are many parts of the world we like to consider safe, like Europe, but the last ten years have shown terrorist strike after terrorist strike even in these locations. As a private jet flier, you must make security a part of every aspect of your planning.
Planning Security is Crucial
Security planning starts at the beginning before you ever get ready to board an aircraft. A security briefing is an essential part of your planning process. These briefings can be ordered from a variety of countries that focus specifically on private aviation security. You will be shown a threat level for the locations you are going, and lists of safe accommodations. This is extremely important in planning. Take for example the 2009 bombings in Jakarta of the JW Marriott and Ritz Carlton hotels. These were targeted bombings focused on a group of CEO’s meeting in these hotels. Seven years earlier, two hundred people were killed in similar bombings. What made these bombings different, and much lower in casualty count is the planning and security that have been put into hotels around the world. At your next luxury hotel stay, take a look at the entrance and parking lot. You may not have noticed before, but there are massive structures that have been put around many of these types of hotels that prevent bomb-laden vehicles from approaching these buildings. A good security company will have rated the area hotels to determine which ones have safety protocol, and give you a solid rating.
There are many locations that call out of the need for ground security, including personal guards, and secure transportation. Locations like Nigeria, Sudan, and Iraq are obvious locations that you should never consider flying into without security. But I suggest you take this a few steps further and consider at least personal protection on EVERY international trip. If you were in London in July of 2005, wouldn't it feel better to have a trained professional with you? These guards may not be able to circumvent major terrorist attacks, but they can be a strong guiding hand to get you through the aftermath. As noted, personal security comes in two parts. One is a personal guard, be it one person, or a team. The second is secure transportation, a vehicle known to your security company to be safe, reliable, reinforced. When picking a security team, ensure that you are getting former military, from a developed country. There are many former US Navy Seals, Israeli Special forces, Australian Special Forces, British SAS and on and on, operatives in the field, staffing security companies around the world. However, some security companies will take the cheap way out, by hiring a local company and “supervising them”. There has been a rash of kidnappings in Africa in recent years, in which a local security company has been bribed to secure and hand over its clients. The best scenario is for a security team or agent, to travel with the clients, with another team on the ground at the destination for advanced security. At the very least, the security team that will meet you at your destination should have traveled there from the US, Europe, Israel, Singapore, or Australia. Anything else should be considered compromised to some degree.
Secure transportation can be arranged by a local agent, but it should be checked and vetted by your security team. Do not be surprised when you arrive at your location that your transportation is not luxury or flashy. The best way to meet with problems in a developing country is to travel in a Mercedes or BMW. A Subaru or Range Rover is a much more likely candidate for secure transport. These vehicles have the power and ability to avoid major threats while being low profile enough not to draw unnecessary attention.
Finally, a topic that should be addressed is aircraft security. The teams mentioned above should all be familiar and able to work with corporate aviation, but you should also strongly consider insisting that your aircraft operator hire security for the aircraft itself. This is something that every aviation company should already be considering at any high threat destination, and it will probably already be included in the cost. If not, it is well worth the small added expense. This security consists of a guard at the aircraft 24/7, and/or security tape on the aircraft door (this is a tape that seals the door of the aircraft to alert the crew to any sort of tampering). The threats to your aircraft on the ground are sabotage focused on disabling your aircraft, most likely shortly after takeoff or complete theft of the aircraft itself. Though there have not yet been any cases of aircraft being bombed or brought down in this manner, vigilant security has diverted attempts. There have been cases of aircraft theft in Africa, and also cases of kidnapping of the aircraft itself. Once this happens, you will have a very hard time getting another aircraft to come to that location and pick you up.