Airport Security – plug the gaps

September 4, 2017 Photo(s): By DJI
By Lt. General P.C. Katoch (Retd)
Former Director General of Information Systems, Indian Army


Phantom-4 PRO drone

On 20 August, 2017, flight operations at Delhi airport were halted for around two hour with closure of the runways when an international airline pilot spotted a drone-like object in the area. In the evening, another international airline pilot spotted a similar object near Terminal 3, following which flight operations were halted for 40 minutes. As per reports, the police have not identified yet who were flying these drones. Many flights hadto be diverted away from Delhi because of these disruptions. This is perhaps first such incident in India but there have been many at London's Heathrow Airport where drone enthusiasts flew drones close the airport. The danger here is terrorists using drones to down aircraft and that too by night, making it difficult for pilots to spot them. Recently, a drone landed undetected at HMS Queen Elizabeth, Britain's new and largest aircraft carrier. A spokesman for the British Ministry of Defence said: 'We take the security of HMS Queen Elizabeth very seriously. This incident has been reported to Police Scotland, an investigation is under way and we stepped up our security measures in light of it. While this drone was taking photographs, it could have been deployed for sabotage also. Just last month, a lone Russian drone reportedly carrying a Thermite grenade blew up billions of dollars worth of ammunition when it struck the Balakliya military base in Eastern Ukraine. We have large built up areas adjacent to airports and adjacent to flight paths. The aircraft are particularly vulnerable when flying low during landings and take offs. Besides, the capabilities of drones have gone up exponentially. In May 2016, 10 x China made DJI Phantom-4 PRO hi-tech drones capable of flying at 6,000 metres with a half-kg payload and equipped with advanced satellite navigation system were seized from a passenger at Kempegowda International Airport, Bengaluru. The DJI Phantom-4 PRO drone has a "Tap-by-Use" feature, which allows users to tap on an individual in a crowd on his screen and allowing the drone to lock and track the person. Now, Florida-based 'Duke Robotics' has unveiled the TIKAD, a custom-built multirotor that can carry and fire various military weapons, including semi-automatic rifles and grenade launchers.

Just prior to Republic Day 2016, Mohammad Abdullah from Hyderabad sneak inside the IGI Airport on a fake Etihad ticket for UAE and spent 10 days in the terminal unnoticed. On January 11, 2016, he checked in with Etihad, who found his ticket to be forged and reported the matter to CISF. However, he was let off. Within an hour, he took another printout of the ticket and re-entered the airport from another gate. This time, he remained there for 10 days before a housekeeping staffer told CISF that he had noticed the man at the terminal past few days. CISF then apprehended him and handed him over to Delhi Police on 20 January 2016. More than 50 people were caught holding fake tickets in 2015, while about 20 cases were reported in 2016. In March 2016, a youth managed to sneak inside the IGI terminal with a pistol.

In May 2016, six men were arrested from the IGI terminal for roaming around suspiciously. A week before that, police arrested a foreigner who had sneaked in to see off his girlfriend. Today also no measures are in place for checking authenticity of the ticket carried by passengers. Web check-in tickets have barcodes and so do boarding passes. So why bar codes can't be made mandatory for air tickets issued by airlines and travel agents, which can be checked at the entrance of the terminal? Also, according to media IGI airport follows the "SHA Security Plan" under which a person does not have to undergo frisking before entering the terminal building, but isn't this taking the easy route? Have we looked around and observed what procedures foreign international airports follow? There is no way one can enter international airports like Nairobi or Adis Ababa without frisking (and screening of baggage), and Adis Ababa being major hub on international routes has equal number of daily passengers as IGI, if not more. Another issue is of baggage screening. Earlier, at Delhi airport, baggage screening was done at the entrance to the 'passenger' area. But check-in baggage is now screened after being booked at the check-in counter. At Kolkata international airport, the screening machine is at one end of the passenger area, and the small placard saying you need to screen the baggage is next to individual check-in counters, which you may notice after you progress further up in the long ques.

The CISF guards 59 airports in the country operated by Airport Authority of India and a few private companies, so why can't procedures be standardized? If we can't ensure screening of baggage before or at the very entrance to passenger area of airport terminals, are we not facilitating terrorist attacks like what happened at Brussels airport? What magnifies the overall threat matrix is the China-Pakistan collusive anti-India nexus that has no compunctions to exploit terrorism as a tool for terrorizing India. We need to take plug the gaps to secure our airports.