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9/11…20 years after

By Michael Petry


This will never happen again...

A few weeks ago on a North Atlantic crossing, while engaged in a discussion with the First Officer, he somehow surprised me with a strong belief, that the world would never again see another security breach of the 9/11 magnitude. 20 years have passed since the disastrous attacks using aviation as a weapon and many of us still remember it as if it was yesterday. 

But the security procedures introduced after 9/11 somehow seemed a little “over the top” to my colleague. Of course, he understood the general importance of “flight deck door protocol”, yet, questioned the chances of having an actual threat on board our flight at that moment. 

So, it seems that the 9/11 lessons and fears are no longer so painfully ingrained in everyone’s mind. Security culture, behaviours and attitude have become less of a worry.
And so it seems that I am rightly worried about the declining focus on security in aviation. Last December, with a resolution, ICAO made 2021 the Year of Security Culture.    

In the words of ICAO “Security culture is a set of norms, beliefs, values, attitudes and assumptions that are inherent in the daily operation of an organization and are reflected by the actions and behaviours of all entities and personnel within the organization” 

According to this definition and my opinion this initiative comes in the right time. 

Our job as crew is to make sure we do not display any vulnerability to whoever is observing us during the flight

As pilots, we all know about safety threats in our daily operation and are being trained in different ways to cope with them.

There are expected risks, which we learn to identify and are being trained to deal with in an appropriate manner, either in a procedural way or sometimes most effectively by just avoiding them.

And then there is always “The unexpected” that hits us out of the blue. Most of the time we can handle those unexpected events thanks to the set of skills we develop through training and experience. It is worth noting, however, that these risks all fall under the same laws of probability: some of us will face a slippery runway, a broken hydraulic line or a flock of birds at some point during their flying career. 

In security however, things are different and again ICAO finds the right words to illustrate this: “Adversaries continuously seek to exploit gaps and vulnerabilities in our aviation systems to conduct an attack. A strong and effective security culture increases the 'eyes and ears' of the organization, beyond formal aviation security policies and procedures. This creates an environment of vigilance, enhancing the overall security of an organization and protecting it from an attack.”

To put this in reference to our well-known safety culture, the “bad guys” in security are always lurking in the shadows, like predators observing possible prey. Trying to identify any displayed weakness which they could use for their own sinister purpose. And they will most likely put that “Achilles Heel” to test before any actual attack. 

Our job as crew is to make sure we do not display any vulnerability to whoever is observing us during the flight. If we stick to our established security protocols, nurture a robust awareness and security culture within our profession, and actively help to identify possible weaknesses in our organization before “they” do, we can stay one step ahead of them. We stay safe, if we stay vigilant.  

And of course, sticking to the established procedures will help to protect us from a random attack of any unruly passenger just as well.

For more information on the Year of Security Culture click here.


About the author: Michael Petry is the Vice-chairman of ECA’s Security working group and Captain on A330.