“If there's money to be made, business will go there.” And if it's a dangerous place, you'd better do your homework and have a true exit strategy.
Into Harm’s Way
While extreme, Tyler's experience serves either as an object lesson or a worst-case scenario for what can happen when operating aircraft over or into places where there's political upheaval or heavy military or criminal activity. And while business aviation operators might chaff at the suggestion of flying their executives and employees to dangerous destinations like Baghdad, Kabul, Lagos or Lahore, the practice is becoming more common. As Tyler puts it, “If there's money to be made, business will go there. . . .”
Most business aviation involves “flying from Point A to Point B efficiently and safely,” Tyler continued. “When you go to a dangerous place, you add another level. Then we have to take something that is dangerous and turn it into something that is safe.”
When Tyler was flying across Africa 28 years ago, reliable intelligence sources were limited. “Now you have the Internet, security agencies and the NBAA to assist you in doing that, and you really want to avail yourself of these sources of information. Don't ever go into a country cold - know everything possible just like you would with weather and approaches.”
More than any other category of international operations, planning a flight into a global hotspot is an exercise in risk management and decision making of the most important stripe: whether to go or not. Implicit in the latter is the confidence to convince a boss determined to go that venturing into a den of vipers, no matter how important the business case, might not be a good idea.
Part 1 of this report examines the process of gathering necessary information to plan a flight into harm's way and reach that point of decision in an intelligent and informed manner, based on the perspectives and experiences of aviation security experts and pilots from business aviation, government contractors and non-government organizations (NGOs). Due to security concerns and the political sensitivity of their operations, several of these aviators and their employers or organizations must remain anonymous. Part 2 in next month's issue will address operational issues.
Preparation for a mission to a hotspot, Tyler advised operators, requires significantly more planning and research than the typical international operations jaunt to Europe or the Orient. “AOL listed the 10 most-dangerous cities in Mexico just the other day. At EJM, we designate some cities in Mexico that we can fly into but have to move the airplane somewhere else overnight, perhaps another Mexican city that is safer or an airport over the border in the U.S. like Brown Field in San Diego. The problem is that the situation changes, so you have to stay on top of it very carefully. And that's just this hemisphere. If you're going to the Middle East or Africa, you have a whole nest of problems.”
So just like a commander planning a military operation, step one is collecting every bit of information that you can on the situation on the ground at your destination - your “intel” as it were. “I used to do this with the Secret Service,” recalled John Sullivan, “but we had all the assets we needed - and we were required to do it. I also handled it in corporate America.” Today, Sullivan, a former Secret Service agent and security director at Texas Instruments, is managing partner of the Welsh-Sullivan Group, a security consultancy specializing in aviation issues.
There are some corporate CEOs who have no acceptance of security, Sullivan observed. “Security is inherently inconvenient and restrictive, and many CEOs or high net-worth individuals do not want to be inconvenienced or restricted. So you have to have the guts to give the boss your best recommendation for not going. If he insists on going, then you have to go, but it's your job to present all the risks. With that said, if you are responsible for security, 80% of the successful trip is the advance planning.”
First, Sullivan recommended, “you have to have a good relationship with whoever is making the schedule, either the flight department dispatcher or the boss's secretary, since you don't want to be informed Monday that you're going Tuesday.
The second part of that is that everyone has to be on the same page. You have to have this open communication with all the people who need to know.”