Rising cases of robbery in aircraft have raised concerns about security at nation’s airports, writes Chinedu Eze
When the reports of recent robbery attacks on taxing aircraft on the airside of the nation’s busiest airport, the Murtala Muhammed International Airport (MMIA), Lagos was made public about two years ago, concerned aviation authorities doubted the possibility because it looked incredible. But seasoned pilots that had flown on many domestic routes narrated their experiences in the past and noted that it happened in the past and could happen again.
They attributed this to security laxity and alleged that those who could have the courage to go and rob at the airside of the airport were those familiar with the airport environment and also those who knew the processes and procedures in flight operations.
They accused sacked workers of handling companies, airlines and possibly former workers of aviation agencies, especially the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN) of being possibly responsible for the theft. They anchored their argument on the fact that anyone without the knowledge of the aircraft luggage hold, movement of aircraft on the taxiways to the runway and also knowledge of the airport environment would not dare take the risk of robbing aircraft on the airside of any airport.
The latest report of similar incident was the attack on an aircraft owned by ANAP Jets last week, while on the runway, as it waited at the holding point for another aircraft to take off.
According to the account, the aircraft that was already poised to take off had to wait for another ahead of it at the holding point of the runway. During that short period, suspected bandits came out of the bush and opened the aircraft luggage hold and took the only bag in it and disappeared into the darkness that usually envelope most of the airside of the airport.
The theft, which was later confirmed by the Chairman of ANAP Jets, Mr. Atedo Peterside to THISDAY was the most recent of many records of such thefts on the Lagos airport runway.
Easy Access to MMIA
Aviation security experts have attributed the easy access of unwanted persons to the airport to poor perimeter fencing and inadequate security system. There, the perimeter fencing is not comprehensive and in some areas there is absence of such fence and across the supposed fence are residential buildings that are too close to the airport.
Member of the industry think-tank, Aviation Round Table (ART) and the CEO of Centurion Securities, an aviation security consultant firm, Group Captain John Ojikutu (rtd), explained that unwanted persons easily access the airport because of the proximity of the airport to residential areas of Lagos and the fact that both security and perimeter fencing are not comprehensive to insulate the airport from unauthorised incursions.
“Incursion will always be there because the minimum distance between the perimeter fence and the built-up area as approved by document 8973 of ICAO (the International Civil Aviation Organisation) is not maintained. “That is why you find people building their houses from the fence of the airport and in case where you have things like that and it is within the built up area, the incursion will always come up from time to time.
“I have seen vehicles parked very close to the fence and we have seen people jumping through that fence. So, if the perimeter patrol is not maintained by FAAN, there will always be incursion.
“There will be incursion if there is no perimeter patrol, if the minimum distance between the fence and the public building are not maintained and because the airport is in a built-up urban developed area. These are the issues. If you know you are in this very bad situation, all you need to do is to maintain the perimeter fence,” he said.
As solution to this problem, Ojikutu suggested is that FAAN should begin to consider the provision of a secondary fence as the security fence, if enhancing the perimeter fence as a security fence may not be feasible because of the magnitude of the violations of the standards along the length of the perimeter fence.
“Note that perimeter fences are obligations to standards Annex 14 (Aerodrome Standards) while the provision of security fence is an obligation to standards in Annex 17 (Aviation Security).
“If we cannot or have not enhanced the perimeter of the airports or provide a secondary fence as the security fence, we are not complying with the minimum standards,” Ojikutu added.
Breaching Airport Security
Speaking in the same vein, the former Managing Director of Capital Airline and currently the lead consultant of ETIMFRI Group, Amos Akpan, said the breaching of airport security was akin to breaching of national security because the president of Nigeria is not safe if bandits and possibly terrorists could have access to the airport runway.
“We will keep having reoccurrence of such security breaches because our aviation security programme appears to be reactive, not proactive. The criminals breach the security and we respond with fire brigade, reactive approach.
“The fences at the airport have holes. There is no real on-time coverage of the entire airport by Close-Circuit Television (CCTV). We need to have the entire airport covered by CCTV. This way every activity in and around the airport will be on record and can be reviewed in case of breach.
“It is dangerous to let criminals feel they can enter and operate within the airport. In the immediate, it has to be mandatory for Aviation Security (AVSEC) with armed security to escort every aircraft,” Akpan said.
Aviation security expert, Bayo Babatunde, had told THISDAY that FAAN and government should invest more in technology driven security system while Aviation Security (AVSEC) personnel are adequately trained.
He suggested that there should be regular profiling of AVSEC personnel to avoid insider threat and to ensure that every security official does not have the potential to conspire with criminals or even terrorists.
Also a former Chief Security Officer of the Murtala Muhammed International Airport, who wished to remain anonymous, said there should be increased effort to improve security at the Lagos and other airports in the country.
He urged government to urgently provide funds to build perimeter and security fences at the airports, regretting that no airport in the country has comprehensive perimeter fences, which exposes them to incursions by unauthorised persons.
“The major problem we have in our airports in terms of security is perimeter fencing. There is no airport in this country that has comprehensive perimeter fence. MMIA, Lagos is fenced but that fence is open at Ejigbo, Shasha and Ajao Estate areas.
“Anybody can have access to the airport through these places. The security operatives on duty at this airport are at the mercy of God because they cannot monitor every part of the airport. We need standard fence. The airside of the airport is not adequately covered with CCTV. The security personnel that monitor activities at the airport have only three patrolling vehicles for four terminals, which include the international, the domestic terminal, the General Aviation Terminal and the cargo terminal. These vehicles can only operate if the airport manager has money to fuel them; if not, they would not be used,” the source added.
The former CSO said inadequate funding and planning had impeded airport security in Nigeria.
“Without uninterrupted electric supply to the airport the security equipment cannot work; so there should be dedicated power supply. There should be no power outage at the airport because unscrupulous people can do maximum damage within few minutes of darkness,” the former CSO said.
In 2011 FAAN concluded plans to comprehensively fence about seven airports in the country, including the Lagos airport but eight years after, none of these airports has been completely fenced.
The former Managing Director of FAAN, Richard Aisuebeogun, then gave the directive, which never materialised.
“Currently in the 2010/2011 budget, we have addressed seven airports in the area of perimeter fencing and as I speak to you, out of the seven, four have been completed. It means four additional airports now have complete perimeter fencing which of course will help to guarantee some level of security,” Aisuebeogun said then.
But last year, the current Managing Director of FAAN, Saleh Dunoma, said work on perimeter fencing would start in 2020, because the cost of the projects would be captured in the 2019 budget while construction would start in 2020 despite the fact that the agency was under pressure to contain access to the airports by bandits and the herding of cattle on airport runways in some states.
However, FAAN said it has reinforced patrolling of the runway and has beefed up aviation security personnel and other security operatives to constantly monitor movements around the LAGOS airport runways.
Other Similar Incidents
On Tuesday, February 13, 2018, pilot of African World Airlines (AWA) scared away suspected bandits, who opened the cargo hold of his aircraft at about 6:45 pm, Nigerian time. The aircraft was on holding point of Runway 18R, waiting for signals to take off, on its way to Accra, Ghana. According to ghanaguardian.com, a Ghanaian pilot of Africa World Airlines unleashed hot gas to foil an armed robbery attempt by thieves at the runway of Lagos airport in Nigeria as they attempted to burglarise the Accra-bound CRJ jet.
In early December 2017, there were reports that a private jet was attacked on the runway18R of the airport by unknown bandits when taxiing to the hangar of Evergreen Apple Nigeria (EAN) Ltd. The jet was said to be arriving from Istanbul between 2110 and 2130hrs after landing in Lagos.
The pilot of the flight was Captain Emma Heering, who reportedly discovered that the rear door of the aircraft was opened while taxiing to the hangar.
About two weeks later, another theft was reported at the airport’s runway, and this time, it involved two known Nigerian musicians, Tiwa Savage and Wizkid. A private jet conveying the two artistes from Uyo, the Akwa Ibom State capital, was allegedly robbed while taxiing on the runway.
Sources at the airport informed THISDAY that the aircraft, a Bombardier Challenger 605 jet with registration number T7-A00, arrived Lagos about 8:33pm on December 26 and was slowly taxiing to the arrival hangar when the cargo compartment was burgled. Reports said the jet had slowed to allow an Ethiopia Airlines cargo plane with registration number ET-ARH to push back for takeoff.
With the latest theft, the expectation is that FAAN, the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA), which is the regulatory agency and the federal government would adopt a system that would efficiently protect the nation’s airports from these bandits and other unscrupulous elements.