Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Fake Pilots a Big Threat to India’s National Security

In the Sept 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center in the US, Al Qaeda cadre hijacked commercial airliners and flew them into the twin towers and the Pentagon. The cadre trained with local US flight schools to be able to fly these planes. They posed as passengers, boarded planes with tools and used them effectively to take control of the aircraft from unsuspecting crews. This attack resulted in a worldwide revamp of airline security. Stronger aircraft doors, stricter passenger screening, stiff restrictions on what passengers carry onboard and the recent more controversial body scanners.
Not many know that the original intent of Al Qaeda was to fly these planes into nuclear power plants. We have all witnessed in the last few days the unfortunate incident in Japan and the consequence on nuclear safety. A fully fueled plane is a devastating weapon.
Therefore it was shocking when five Indian pilots who had been flying for years were alleged to have paid for the licenses and submitted forged mark sheets to qualify. This incident beyond implication to passenger safety has serious implications on national security, and calls to question the mechanism used and sufficiency of pilot background checks.  Given the utmost care taken in ensuring aircraft reliability and air safety one would assume that a pilot would be thoroughly vetted for national security as well as competency. Sometimes such perceptions form a critical vulnerability which can easily be exploited by individuals within the system or who have good knowledge of it.
India’s growing economy has resulted in a rapid rise of private and commercial planes and a demand for a large number of pilots and stewards. if not appropriately fixed the problem can multiply.

All nations should have a comprehensive government run security vetting procedure for checking the background of pilots before recruitment and monitoring their contacts and activities after recruitment. Many rely only on a employer recruitment check. This would prevent entry of terrorist as pilots and future induction of pilots into terrorist activities.

Investigations are on. The racket could be much bigger. Read the article “Fake pilots: Aviation regulator screens 3,000 licences

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