Critical Analysis and Report
Hijacking airplanes is one of the major aviation security concerns. The act is a concern for the aviation industry given the risk it presents to the passengers and crew, the plane, and people on the ground. Since its beginnings, commercial aviation has played and continues to play major role in national and international economy. The aviation industry is of both public and private importance as it drives the two sectors. Such importance, therefore, raise concern over the impact security threats such as plane hijacking and terrorism could affect the safety, utility and economic value of the private and public sectors. The delicate nature of the aviation system has undeniably made it attractive as a target for terrorists in both the political and philosophical spectrum (Baker, 2014). Whether as a political statement, for personal gain or due to brain instability, terrorists and individuals continually try to abuse the aviation system due to both the visibility and the impact that even a foiled attack produces (Baker, 2014). Over the years, with the growth of the aviation industry and increased aviation security threats, so have security measures in aviation increase to counter the security threats. Measures to counter security threats have included both financial and legislative features in the national and international spheres, and by both the public (governments and airport authorities) and private sector (airlines). Although the security features introduced have brought intangible costs, including time spent through security procedures and the privacy implications of the security measures, they are all worthy considering the costs in the absence of the security measures. In exploring plane hijacking as an aviation problem, the paper will explore the background of plane hijackings; the types; impact that come with hijackings; and offer solutions based on ICAO (international civil aviation organization) standards.
Unlike other crimes, airplane hijacking is a relatively new form of crime; drawing attention as a national security issue in 1931. According to Baker (2014), the first skyjacking occurred on February 21, 1931 in Arequipa, Peru. In this incident, armed revolutionaries hijacked the pilot at gunpoint. The pilot, Byron Richards, however, refused to fly the revolutionaries leading to a 10-day standoff. While the Peru incident did not involve a plane in flight, Cathay Pacific flight from Macau to Hong Kong, was the first midair hijacking in 1948. The incident involved four Chinese hijackers who struggled with the plane’s crew, eventually leading to the crashing of the plane and the death of all passengers and crew onboard the aircraft (Mukash, 2012).
The Cathay Pacific flight prompted the introduction of new security measures and between 1948 and 1957, there were relatively less cases of hijacking; on average, there was only one hijacking a year in the period (Mukash, 2012). Although there was an increase of hijackings between 1957 and 1967 to an average of five a year, the years after 1968 saw a rapid increase in the number of plane hijackings. In 1968 alone, there were 38 hijack cases, while 1969 saw the highest number of hijacks at 82 (Mukash, 2012). Although the rate eventually decreased over the next decade, the number of hijacks (at 42 a year) was still high.
In explaining the escalation of the hijacks, Mukash (2012) attributes the increases to three factors: U.S. struggle with Fidel Castro, China’s struggle with Taiwan, and struggles between Palestine an Israel. According to Mukash (2012), from 1959, the US, through the CIA (Central Intelligence Agency) carried out hijacks as a way of disrupting Castro’s Cuba. Soon after the CIA-led hijacks, Cubans began doing the same as retaliation against the US. In Taiwan, Taiwanese personnel used similar hijacks in their fight against Communist mainland China. Chinese also began using the same methods in their escape from Taiwan (Mukash, 2012). In the Palestinian-Israeli crisis, Palestinian groups also took up the method in their fight against Israel.
The increased hijacking led to the passage of several legislations as a way of combating the increased hijacks. In the US for example, the Federal Aviation Act of 1958. Congress amended the Act in 1961 making air piracy, disturbing the crew and unauthorized possession of weapons onboard aircrafts criminal acts (Baker, 2014). Other hijacking incidents experienced also prompted the adoption of other security measures including vetting of flight crewmembers, aircraft and cabin searches for international flights, more screening for international flights and secondary screening at the gate area (Baker, 2014).
However, even with these measures in place, terrorism by hijacking continued to escalate including the crashing of Flight 103 en route to New York. The plane, carrying 259 passengers and crew crashed in Lockerbie, Scotland killing the passengers and 11 people on the ground (Baker, 2014). The crash prompted the inclusion of more security measures including a mandatory x-ray or hand searching of checked baggage and the matching of passengers and their baggage on international flights. Additionally, there was a prohibition of access to passenger bag contents after the x-ray and hand searches, as well as random selection of passengers for additional security checking (Baker, 2014).
Perhaps the most significant of all the attacks was the September 11, 2001 attack on the US, where Al-Qaeda affiliated hijackers took over four planes, crashing two in the World Trade Center; one into Pentagon; and another in Pennsylvania. This was a political statement by the Al-Qaeda extremists; an incident that led to the death of 3,000 people in New York, Washington, D.C., and Pennsylvania (Baker, 2014; Mukash, 2012). This incident, and many more that came after it, led to increased security measures in the aviation industry, most of which have helped in foiling even more hijacking attempts and loss of lives.
Raman (2000) distinguishes different forms of criminal acts in civil aviation. Of the different categories, commandeering and hijacking directly involve the aircraft, passengers and crew of the aircraft, in addition to relating to taking control of the aircraft. Commandeering refers to taking control of the plane while it is on the ground with all its doors open. On the other hand, hijacking refers to taking control of the plane with its doors closed, whether the plane is mid-air or on the ground (Raman, 2000). An individual or a group of people can carry out the two acts.
While most hijackers have used hijacking as a way of getting attention and negotiating for specific demands as was the case in Frankfurt, Germany in 2003, others have used the hijackings for more immediate and sinister motives (Felipe, Maria & Santiago, 2007). Hijacking for negotiation, alternatively known as rolling terrorism, was a method used in the 70s, although some hijackers still use it. This type involved the use of the hostages for negotiation for ransom, prisoner release, or other personal and political demands. Rolling terrorism is different from immediate terrorism where the hijackers’ intention is to harm as a way of making a political statement. Blowing up of Pan America Flight 103 and the 9/11 attacks are instances of immediate terrorism, where the intention is to create mega disasters. Immediate terrorism accounts for the majority of recently reported plane hijackings, most of which have led to loss of lives and destruction of property.
Recent advances in technology, however, also present another type of hijacking: cyber-jacking, where individuals with high software engineering knowledge are capable of hacking into the plane system and taking control of the plane. The disappearance and later discovery of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 has fueled the discussion on the possibility of remote hacking and gaining of control of the plane’s onboard systems. What adds to speculations about the possibility of a cyber-attack to hijack the plane is the fact that despite modern planes having many transponders, particularly Boeing 777, which help in the communication of the position of the plane to air traffic control; Flight MH370’s transponders all appeared to have been intentionally switched off (Fox News, 2016). Therefore, the level of sophistication of modern aircrafts, their reliance on automation and the intricate web of onboard software could provide a window into planes’ systems allowing hijackers to commandeer the planes as is the speculation on Flight MH370 (Fox News, 2016).
The impacts of hijacking and any form of security threat are especially grave for passenger and the aviation industry. Yet it is worth stating that the impacts go beyond the aviation industry to specific sectors of national economies. Between 1969 and 1989, terrorists attempted putting bombs on 46 occasions, succeeding in 11 cases and causing the crash of the planes killing 1, 016 passengers and crew. For the 9/11 attacks, more than 3,000 people lost their lives as a direct cause of terrorists hijacking the planes (Baker, 2014; Mukash, 2012). The cases do not sum up the loss of life from plane hijackings, but only highlight the impact to human life that hijackings have. Moreover, while negotiations have sometimes prevented crashing and loss of life; such incidences have the ability to traumatize passengers, causing some survivors never to board a plane. Further, some survivors may develop hate towards a particular religion or group, as is the case of association of Islam with terrorism and hate of Arabs in the US, especially after the 9/11 attacks.
The loss of life and the trauma that comes after such incidents are obviously not the only concern, as economics also become a concern for the aviation industry. Hijackings have had a disastrous impact on airline revenue and income. The fear of plane hijacking has especially led to the fear of flying by many, a fact that directly affects revenue for airlines (Yalcinkaya & Ozmen, 2007). Concerns for the revenue are especially great given the recent slump in revenue for the aviation industry. Hijackings, apart from causing loss in future revenues, also affect airline stock prices, fleet numbers and additional monetary costs in settlement for the families of the passengers. According to Reactions (2014), the families of the Malaysian Airlines Flight MH370 could receive $400,000-$3m each in settlement. This is a huge cost for Airline considering there were more than 200 passengers and crew onboard. Moreover, whether through a hijack or technical fault, any aviation incident involving an airline has the potential of damaging the airline’s reputation. Thus, apart from loss in revenue, fleet and settlement losses, an airline also has to deal with a damaged reputation, which takes long to repair. In extreme cases, the damage is usually irreparable.
The impact of such incidents goes beyond the industry to sectors of national economies. The tourism industry is especially a culprit. For instance, hijacking of planes to Europe from America in the mid-80s caused a decline in American tourists visiting Europe. So grave were the effects of the attacks that the number of tourists from America to 29 countries in Europe and the Mediterranean decreased by 60 percent. Moreover, according to BBC (2016), the recent incident in which lapses in Egypt’s Sharm El Sheikh Airport security allowed a man to smuggle explosives into an aircraft, which destroyed a Russian passenger jet mid-air has had a great impact on Egypt’s tourism. With the Egyptian tourism industry yet to recover, the hijack incident became a further plow to the ailing tourism industry.
Increase in the number of hijackings have led to reinforced security measures in airports and in the aircraft as means of making the aviation industry safer. The adoption of strengthening of cockpit doors and making them bullet proof is just one of the measures against hijacking planes (Baker, 2014). With hijackers having no access to the cockpit, it is possible for the pilot to land the plane safely, ensuring the safety of both the passengers and crew. ICAO has been especially keen on increased security both at the airport and in the aircraft. Increased airport security through better screening methods and equipment are especially welcome as they allow the detection of arms and any other harmful material that the hijackers may use to take control of the plane.
Including an onboard security officer(s) is an additional security measure against hijackers. According to Urban (2016), during the debate on the “Protocol to Amend the Convention on Offences and Certain Acts Committed on Board Aircraft” held in 2014, there was an adoption of including in-flight security officers. The Convention saw it necessary to include the officers to provide safety of the aircraft and the passengers on board (Urban, 2016).
While it is important to include several in-flight security personnel in flights whether domestic or international, a solution to the problem of hijacking may also include training the crew in ways of combating hijackers. Combative training for both the crew and the in-flight security officers is especially important as it allows both parties to rise to the occasion, especially when the hijackers intent is to commit immediate terrorism. There have been cases where passengers and crew, as well as in-flight officers have thwarted attempts by hijackers ignite explosive mid-air. Combative training for the crew could therefore go a long way in assisting air marshals to diffuse any hijacking incident.
Plane hijackings are real threats to the aviation industry. They have far-reaching consequences on the industry and the passengers, and therefore the need to put mitigation measures in place. Over the history of aviation, hijackings have largely been rolling terrorism. Recently, however, the cases of immediate terrorism have been on the rise. Immediate terrorism is serious given the sure possibility of fatalities. For this reason, apart from instituting stringent measures at the airports and in planes, it is also important to train crews and in-flight security officers if they are to stand a chance against eventual hijacking incident.
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BBC (2016). Egypt Air Hijack: Man Surrenders at Larnaca Airport. BBC. Retrieved from http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-35915139
Cost of MH-370 disaster set to grow. (2014). Reactions, Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com/docview/1675015906?accountid=1611
Felipe, M., B. Maria, J., & Santiago, R. (2007). Shooting Down Hijacked Airplanes? Sorry, We’re Humanists. A Comment on the German Constitutional Court Decision of 2.15.2006, Regarding the Luftsicherheitsgesetz (2005 Air Security Act). Berkeley Electronic Press
Fox News (2016). Flight MH370 Hijacked by Cell Phone? Cyber Jack Theory Raised by Terror Expert. Fox News. Retrieved from http://www.foxnews.com/on-air/fox-and-friends/blog/2014/03/17/flight-mh370-hijacked-cell-phone-cyber-jack-theory-raised-terror-expert
Mukash, A. (2012). Aviation Terrorism. Astana: Eurasian National University
Raman, B. (2000). Plane Hijacking: In Perspective. South Asia Analysis Group Paper No. 103
Urban, J. (2016). The Protocol to Amend the Convention on Offences and Certain Acts Committed on Board Aircraft: A Missed Opportunity or a Sufficient Modernization? Indiana Law Review, 49, 713-743
Yalcinkaya, R. & Ozmen, A. (2007). Hijackings and Aviation Security. Understanding and Responding to the Terrorism Phenomenon: A Multi-Dimensional Perspective. NCJ