African Airlines Worry About Costly Aircraft Security Measures

By Stephen Mbogo | July 7, 2008 | 8:15pm EDT

Nairobi, Kenya ( - Cash-strapped African airlines are worried that they may be squeezed out of the international air transportation market because of the need for expensive security measures to protect passenger aircraft against terror attacks.

The main concern for many companies is the cost of installing anti-missile defense systems on aircraft.

"It is expensive for Africa," said Tshepo Peege, president of the African Civil Aviation Commission (AFCAC), a body of the African Union which advises governments on aviation policy issues.

The need for defensive systems on aircraft became clear after terrorists using shoulder-launched anti-aircraft missiles tried to shoot down an Israeli passenger jet taking off from Kenya's coastal city of Mombasa in November 2002. The attempt failed.

Last week, the Geneva Graduate Institute of International Studies said in its annual "Small Arms Survey" that at least 13 non-state groups, some of which were considered terrorist organizations, were known to possess shoulder-launched missiles, and another 14 groups also may have them.

Peege said African airlines have adopted many security measures, including deploying sky marshals and obtaining better information on passengers, but the biggest concern still remains how to protect flights against missile attack.

Apart from the cost of anti-missile equipment, there are also concerns that the protruding device will create additional drag, consequently pushing up fuel use and in turn, operational costs, Peege said.

An airline engineer said it was very difficult to quantify how big a difference such a protrusion would make to fuel costs.

A number of companies marketing anti-aircraft missile defense systems have made contact with African airlines.

AFCAC is not discouraging airlines from installing the systems, but it is discouraging them from committing large sums of money into a project that will eat into revenues and undermine the overall growth of the air transport industry in Africa, Peege said.

Instead, the organization is urging countries to improve ground security within airports and within a radius of several kilometers around airports.

Peege maintained that weapons getting onto planes posed the greatest threat to aircraft and passengers.

He noted that the Council for International Civil Aviation Organizations (ICAO), has recommended that nations develop tight security around the airports to minimize the risks of terrorist attacks using shoulder-fired missiles.

AFCAC believed African airlines' interests could be safeguarded by adopting that recommendation but not by being forced to install expensive anti-missile devices.

"We do not want airlines that do not have these [missile defense] systems to be marginalized," said Peege.

Military analysts have forecast that terrorists are likely to make further attempts to shoot down passenger aircraft using shoulder-launched missiles.

Doug Brooks, president of the International Peace Operators' Association - a grouping of private military firms - said a number of SA-7 missiles were known to be in the wrong hands.

SA-7s, he said, were not the most effective, accurate or deadly shoulder-fired missiles, especially against large aircraft - but all it took to bring down a plane was to hit it in the right place. "They are still very much of a threat," Brooks said.

It's not just in Africa that airlines are concerned about the costs of anti-missile systems.

Israel, arguably the world's most-security conscious country, reportedly is the first to be installing the devices on commercial airliners.

In April, U.S. lawmakers approved a bill designed to counter the threat of shoulder-fired missiles to American airliners by speeding up the development of defense systems.

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