A file photo of T-3, Indira Gandhi International Airport in Delhi
The government may have been caught on the wrong foot in the Kandahar hijack case of 1999 but it has come a long way since then by enforcing standard operating procedures (SOPs) and conducting regular drills to bring down response time to any threat to aviation security. What’s changed since Kandahar?”The response time to aviation threat has been brought down considerably by carrying out mock-drill from time to time and following the SOPs stringently,” said a senior official of Airports Authority of India (AAI), who did not want to be named.The delayed response was one of goof-ups of the government in the 1999 hijack case. So, it was no wonder that when it sensed a threat after the anonymous call to Air India (AI) and intelligence that Delhi-Kabul flights could be hijacked they moved at lightning speed to put all airports on high alert. Are SOPs importantt?According to sources in the aviation industry, all the SOPs that need to be adhered to in the event of increased threat have been set in motion. These include strict enforcement of access control by airport security guards (ASG) at airports. Airports officials said profiling of passengers at the Xray Baggage Inspection System (X-BIS) has also been initiated.”This means that passenger behaving suspiciously will be closely watched,” said an airport official. What’re new norms?Along with this, X-BIS will screen registered baggage from two angles and an enhanced physical search of them would also be carried out. Passengers under suspicion will be physically frisked and the security staff will keep a close watch on the movement of the screened baggage till it is loaded into the aircraft.The apron, where the arrival aircraft are parked and its surrounding will be searched for unauthorised persons and potential explosive devices.All arrival aircraft will be thoroughly searched by operators after dis-embarkment of passengers for any leftovers items or devices and airline staff will be posted in CCTV control room to monitor all suspicious activities. Is food also checked?A retired air commander, who did not want to be named, said even catering is monitored by the Bureau of Civil Aviation Security (BCAS) personnel to cut down security threat to the minimum.He said that it was done at a centralised kitchen and loading food carts were sealed. According to him, every new aviation staff is trained for aviation security under the BCAS. “Every staff hired in the aviation sector is taught how to analyse threat? How to react to it? What to expect if such incidents were to take place?” he said.Most aircraft also have discrete code transponders in the pilot cockpit, which activate remote Air Traffic Control (ATC) switch in case of hijacking. This happens on the press of a button. The pilots sends code 7,500 on his aircraft being hijacked or subjected to unlawful interference and code 7,700, which cannot be de-activated on flight, if the hijacker is entering the cockpit. Which are personnel responsible for security?Flight marshals, who are armed passengers, keep a watch on passengers and look out for any suspicious happening.”All these entail huge cost by the government and other stakeholders but it is less expensive than human and financial loss incurred due to hijacking of an aircraft,” said the retired air commander.