Aviation Security Experts Accuse Baggage Handling Workers of Aiding Stowaways


Chinedu Eze

Baggage handling workers have been fingered in the stowaway incidents at the nation’s airports.

Security experts at the airport hinted that investigations into the recent stowaway incident involving an Arik Air aircraft revealed that insiders aid stowaways.
A man who stowed away in Arik Aircraft was found dead in the flight shortly after it arrived the Tambo International Airport, Johannesburg from Lagos last Wednesday.

Top security officials from different organisations, including Aviation Security (AVSEC) of the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN), the Nigeria Air Force (NAF), the Nigeria Police, after reviewing the security apparatus of the Murtala Muhammed International Airport (MMIA), Lagos concluded that the stowed man was assisted by baggage handling workers.

THISDAY learnt accusing fingers are being pointed at the workers of aviation handling companies of the Skyway Aviation Handling Company Limited (SAHCOL) and the Nigerian Aviation Handling Company Plc (nahco aviance), the airline workers and the personnel who carry out cleaning services at the airports.

A senior security official at the Lagos airport reasoned that it would be difficult for an outsider to gain access to the airport sterile section, which is the airside insisting that those low cadre workers might be conniving with outsiders to arrange the stowaways.

The source said the handling company workers have access to every part of the airside, from the baggage hall to the foot of the aircraft and pointed out that those workers are lowly paid and many of them are disillusioned about their work and would want an escape overseas or assist others to do so.

“Majority of the staff of these companies who are into baggage movement are casual workers and are poorly paid and many of them are obsessed with the desire of travelling out of the country. That is a common thing in aviation. The security system here is multi-layered. There is security at the foot of each aircraft, whether the aircraft is airworthy or not, there are two guards at each end of the aircraft. This means that nobody can gain access to the aircraft without being a staff of the airline or from the handling company. The policy is that every aircraft must be guarded, so any possible stowaway must be aided by an insider.

“There are layers of security at these airports, including regular patrol of the airside side and the fence area, so it will be difficult for an outsider to enter the airport and gain access to the aircraft without inside assistance,” the source said.

But an agency official who has worked for several years at the Lagos airport said it was highly likely that those who sneak into the aircraft wheel-well to be airlifted out of the country are persons who stray into the airport premises.

“First of all, it is the primary responsibility of the airline to protect its aircraft and every staff of handling companies are checked by security when accessing and leaving the airside. Stowaway usually happens when outsiders stray into the airport,” the source said.

Spokesman of SAHCOL, Basil Agboarumi told THISDAY that the staff of the company that carry out baggage handling are profiled and monitored at regular interval and if there is any infraction, the person is relieved of his job.

“We get background information of every of our staff and we carry out regular profiling on them because of the sensitive nature of the work we do. There is no way any of our staff can be involved in breaching safety at the airport”, Agboarumi said.

Also a NAHCO official told THISDAY that the activities of the baggage handlers is strictly and closely monitored, adding that any of the workers who strayed from probity is given maximum penalty of discipline and subsequently disengaged.

“But if the handling companies workers are allegedly responsible, where are the security operatives? It means the security officials have failed in their duties. The airport should have comprehensive CCTV coverage for 24 hours a day, is that what we have at the airport? Let them stop shifting blames and own up to their incompetence,” the NAHCO source said.