November 2016

African Aviation Sector

Security Investment for Critical Economic Growth

Photo of Robbie Kirk MBA, CMgr FCM

By Robbie Kirk MBA, CMgr FCM, Business Development Director, G4S Risk Management

Robbie Kirk joined G4S in 2013 after successfully completing an MBA with Plymouth University and qualifying as a Chartered Manager. He held the position of Shell Regional Account Manager, Asia and the Middle East based in Malaysia for two years, before appointment to his current role. As Business Development Director for G4S Risk Management based out of Dubai, he employs deep understanding of strategic risk to enable business in hostile environments in Africa, Middle East and Latin America.

Robbie joined G4S after a prolonged career in the UK Royal Marines and Special Forces, employed principally in the high-risk, strategic security market. He has significant expertise in counter-terrorism (land and maritime), counter-insurgency, counter-narcotics, and kidnap and ransom (K&R). He was an executive member of the UK Maritime Advisory Group and Counter Terrorist National Planning Team, and deployed as Chief of Staff for Task Group Headquarters in Afghanistan. He is a UK accredited Hostage Negotiator and SIA close-protection officer.


In 1997, the Arab League formed the Greater Arab Free Trade Area (GAFTA), which includes six North African nations: Egypt, Libya, Morocco, Sudan, Tunisia and Algeria. GAFTA facilitated a consensus on trade facilitation and regulation, increasing access to markets across the Middle East and North Africa (MENA), whilst providing resilience to wider global financial and geopolitical shocks.

Until recently, reliance on oil as the main contributor to GDP for a number of GAFTA countries has provided little reason to fulfil this vision. However, the repercussions of the Arab Spring, conflicts in Libya, Yemen and Syria and the 2015 global oil price crash, have highlighted the importance of creating a MENA Free Trade Area, with a potential customer base of 355 million people. A regulated Free Trade Area would offer vital mechanisms to attract new businesses, enable regional growth, and provide tools to combat the ever increasing local instabilities.

This year, the World Bank estimated the loss due to weak trade integration in MENA as equal to two to three percent of the Maghreb’s annual GDP. A fragile transportation network and a series of non-tariff barriers create a cumulative negative impact, resulting in certain products traded within the Maghreb costing three times more than they would within the European Union. The World Bank calls for: “Investments in critical infrastructure to create trade corridors, governed by international agreements on customs and regulations to ease the crossing of borders”.

In the Middle East, the falling oil price has provided fresh impetus on economic diversification, with GAFTA countries renewing efforts for Red Sea integration and developing the vision for a common MENA trading area. Strategic infrastructure projects are on the rise, with Saudi Arabia and Egypt recently agreeing on a Red Sea causeway and significant investment in railway infrastructure, including USD $118.9bn in Saudi Arabia, USD $34.4bn in Algeria and USD $30.9bn in Egypt.

These projects offer the basis for growth through investment and free trade, with the aviation sector forming a critical pillar of the strategic intent. The Air Transport Action Group (ATAG) considers that: “Over the next 20 years, air traffic is expected to grow at an average annual rate of 5.2% in developing countries”. This forecast speculates that the number of jobs likely to be supported by aviation and tourism will grow to 67.7 Million, an 83% increase from 2012. Aviation facilitates ‘just in time’ global trade in short-life products, such as fresh produce and agricultural goods, whilst enabling complex supply chain management for high technology engineering connectivity. ATAG highlights the successful Apple supply chain model (illustrated below), that uses an efficient network of manufacturers and air transportation. The message is clear: aviation networks enhance trade, security and supply chain efficiencies for GAFTA, MENA and Africa in the broader sense.

As Anna Fernandes notes in her article “The Networking Continent”, the World Trade Indicator recently claimed: “Air freight is one of the drivers of global trade; the international Air Transport Association (IATA) shows a correlation between economic performance and commercial air transport; and there is huge potential in Africa’s aviation sector to drive the continent’s economy.” With this in mind, it is apposite that the recent 2016 Aviation Day held in Nigeria was titled: “Driving African Economies through the Power of Aviation”. Despite this recognition of aviation as a key economic pillar for growth and stability, the majority of developing African nations continue to underinvest in aviation infrastructures and security.

The impact of terrorist attacks poses a fascinating and perhaps disproportionate impression on public awareness. Successful terror attacks targeting aviation assets and infrastructure create global fear and can deter investment, trade, tourism and connectivity. The Russian Metrojet incident in 2015 and the subsequent negative effect on Egypt’s hospitality sector testifies how aviation security failing has a deleterious effect on tourism, trade and investor confidence. This is because any perception of an insecure aviation network directly affects a country’s and region’s ability to maintain and nurture a business enabling environment.

Terrorism’s aim to cause and spread fear, and the idea of mass murder initiated in an inescapable metal container at altitude provides a powerful propaganda narrative, reinforced by our collective memories of actual horrors. The outcome is an elevated human response, with a significant fiscal impact on the associated airline, venue and country. Recent incidents and threats have been well publicized and resonate strongly with the carriers and traders essential to growth. These include: more than 41 people killed and 230 injured in Istanbul Ataturk airport during a multiple suicide bomber assault; a suicide bomber on the Daallo Airlines flight D3159 from Mogadishu; the loss of EgyptAir flight MS804 from Paris to Cairo with 224 people onboard (terrorism still to be verified); More than 30 people killed and 300 injured in a complex, multiple suicide bomber attack in Zaventem Airport, Brussels; At least 13 people killed in two car bomb attacks near the main entrance of the airport in Mogadishu; and the high-tech threat posed to flight management by the recent hacking event at Vietnam’s two biggest airports (Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City). Collectively, these incidents have created a media response that dilutes the confidence needed to fully exploit the benefits of a healthy and internationally accredited aviation sector.

Equally, doubts about the broad resilience of aviation security can also be threatening. In March this year, an Egyptian national (Mr Seif Eldin Mustafa) was cleared through all passenger screening security checks for EgyptAir flight MS181, yet he was still able to convince the crew that he had a viable explosive device and would detonate unless the flight was re-routed to Cyprus. This serves as an example of how simple it is to manipulate the human element of a security system when the stakes are so high. The threat vectors are multi-faceted and represent significant impact due to their political and economic potency, and are underpinned by a voracious media.

So how do we secure our aviation sites, assets and infrastructure to reflect their critical nature to GAFTA and MENA trade momentum, allied with the associated Sub-Saharan Africa growth potential? How do governments apply a system that enables business and generates the necessary security confidence for investment? As with any complex and multi-layered risk management challenge, a systemic and networked approach is essential, supported by anticipatory and resilience measures.

Interconnectedness of the air transportation systems and an integrated solution design provide critical anticipatory mitigation. Talking to Bloomberg last year, Peter King, a New York Republican who serves on the house intelligence committee, argued for a comprehensive approach: “The manifest on the Metrojet flight hasn’t shown any passengers had a connection to terrorism, meaning ‘the odds are overwhelming’ that an airport insider was involved”. Airports in developing nations “often lack rigorous screening for workers and have poor internal security measures”.

This view is backed by the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) whose State Safety Audits in Africa routinely expose a pattern of underinvestment and absent national process. The Universal Safety Oversight Audit Programme (USOAP) index indicates multiple countries in Africa with sub-optimal standards of ‘Effective Implementation’ and a lack of important national regulatory practice that would enable critical access to major aviation markets in the US, Europe and Middle East, instigating investment and growth in positive import-export pattern ratios.

Resilience is achieved through a broad mix of multi-layered physical and technical measures, with attendant screening, training, profiling and equipment based solutions at their heart. Whilst the safety of passengers and crew is central to complex security solutions, government motivation is dominated by the impact of failure on pivotal economic and social factors. A multi-layered risk managed approach to Aviation system security is therefore not only good sense; it is the most cost effective route to support both national and regional development. Yet many African governments fail to grasp the potential of aviation, through poor investment in national procedures, infrastructure and security.

When a government legislates for a national aviation plan and invests in the expertise and necessary capital expenditure to enable full spectrum security, the whole economy benefits. Ethiopia provides a strong case in point, with significant investment applied to their aviation sector and the rewards inherent in their recent sustained economic growth (see Anna Fernandes on page 37). It takes time, commitment and funding to create and legislate a National Aviation Security Plan and the layers necessary to apply a coherent, structured and well-supported Airport Security Plan for each international, regional and domestic civil airport, in accordance with ICAO and International Air Transport Association (IATA) standards. Recognized adherence to these international standards will, in turn, generate investor confidence and enable international carrier flights and associated trade. If Africa wishes to realize the potential afforded by aviation, this investment in the structure, processes and security factors at the heart of international accreditation is an inescapable commitment.

G4S has an unparalleled pedigree and portfolio in aviation security, delivering operations at over 100 major airports globally, serving over 85 airlines in 45 countries. G4S Risk Management currently provides the security for Baghdad International Airport in Iraq and has the understanding necessary in developing markets to transform aviation resilience and provide training and development for national staff.

We approach the challenge considering all aspects of risk, advising government doctrine and devising strategies to mitigate vulnerability and work towards ICAO/IATA compliance. We have the international experience to individualize the solution to national requirement, including, where appropriate, systemic end-to-end solutions (mine and munition site clearance; security design and delivery – ICAO/IATA compliant; passenger and baggage screening; high level emergency response development; and facilities management).

Central to our aviation solutions is an acknowledgement of the strategic importance (political, economic and social) that airports and aviation represent. Within renewed GAFTA/Red Sea trade impetus and the broader MENA/African economic vision, the benefits a healthy aviation programme can bring are conclusive.