Tackling Stowaway Threat to Airport Security, Flight Operations

The recent development of ‘stowaway’ at Nigeria’s airports being recorded by some airlines is becoming a worrisome trend that stakeholders are querying whether this is fast turning into a challenge of security at the airports, or a threat to flight operations of the airlines.

Two stowaways have been recorded at the Lagos airport within a month. The first one happened in mid February, which involved a private airline, Executive-Jet aircraft, whose engineer on routine check before takeoff, discovered that somebody was hiding at the lower compartment of the aircraft wheel well. The second one happened two weeks ago, which involved an Arik aircraft A340 CS-TX on scheduled service to JFK Airport, New York. Unfortunately, the stowaway was found dead inside the compartment of the wheel well of the aircraft.

Investigations on the incident are still being handled by the Police to unravel what led to this latest development. But aviation stakeholders are asking the relevant government agencies to do something fast to save the situation before it gets out of hand.

They are quick to point out that security at the nation’s airports is becoming lapse which has made all manner of persons to find themselves at the restricted areas of the airports, particularly the airside. Another issue they raised is the lack of perimeter fences around the airside of the airports which border them with the host communities. Does this then suggest that Nigeria’s airports are porous? A stakeholder, Kenneth Ajakaye said it would be difficult to describe the nation’s airports as being porous.

His words: “I cannot tell you that Nigerian airports are porous because of the recent pockets of incident that happened at the Lagos airport. If somebody beat a security check or sneaked in at the dead of the night through an area where there is no light, that does not mean that the airport is porous. It happens at other airports even in developed countries.

So let us stop this blame game and first ask, ‘what actually happened that led to so, so and so and wait for Police who is carrying out investigation on the matter to unravel the secret behind the event.” But another aviation stakeholder, Isa Mohammed, completely disagreed with Mr. Ajakaye. According to him there won’t be incidents of stowaway if the airports are not porous.

“Tell me, if the airports are not porous, how do people enter the airside without going through the approved channels, and why are we recording incidents of stowaway,” he queried. He continued: “The truth is that the relevant agencies of government don’t want to accept their responsibilities and do the right thing. Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN) is the operator of all airports in Nigeria.

Why can’t it provide adequate security at the airports? Why are there no perimeter fences at most of the airports? Why are most of our airports poorly lighted and why are there no CCTVs that can pick anybody that strays into the airside?” The Nigeria Police, Nigeria Air Force and FAAN’s security guards combine to provide security at the nation’s airports. But no one can tell why the combination of these efforts cannot guarantee adequate security at the airports and save these incidents of stowaway.

An industry watcher, Gab Nkemjika said the reason why something urgent should be done to check the trend of people straying into the airports, is because of the times Nigeria has found herself over the global terrorism threat. “What of if those straying into the airports have evil intension of planting time bomb or cause other harm? That will be disastrous if it happens,” he argued. An aircraft engineer who did not want his name mentioned, just said: “What the situation calls for now is vigilance by all concerned. We must do everything possible to safeguard our airports. The airports must be safe places where flight operations can be carried out without hitches.”

Following this latest development, the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) has directed Arik Air management to beef up security around its parked aircraft in order to forestall further security breaches caused by unauthorized persons. In a statement issued by the general manager, public affairs of NCAA, Fan Ndubuoke, the Authority said it has become imperative for Arik to review its security arrangement around its aircraft when not in operation. The statement reads: “The Director General of the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA), Capt.

Muhtar Usman has directed the management of Arik Air to review its existing security arrangement around its aircraft when not in operation. In the specific, the airline operator has been ordered to ensure the presence of static security guards at all times at its aircraft parking positions. “According to Captain Usman, this directive is consequent upon the stowaway incident involving an Arik aircraft A340 CS-TX on a scheduled service to JFK Airport, New York.

“Therefore, in order to forestall any future occurrence and subsequent security breach, the airline needs to take urgent remedial actions. “The Regulatory Authority clearly recognises the clause in the airline’s Approved Air Operator Security Programme (AAOS) that the responsibility of securing aircraft when not in service lies with the airport operator. However, as evident with recent developments, increased capacity is required to safeguard aircraft. “The DG therefore reiterates that static security guards be continually deployed to the foot of the aircraft when not in operation. “Capt. Usman added that this measure will subsist for this period pending when all investigations on the incident are concluded.

“Thereafter adequate measures will be established and implemented by all concerned stakeholders” Apart from these recent events, there have been several other stowaways in the past. In August 2013, Daniel Ohikhena hid himself in the wheel well of another Arik aircraft flight WSS-544 and flew from Benin City to Lagos unnoticed. In March 2010, a Nigerian, Okechukwu Okeke, was found dead in the nose wheel compartment of the United States carrier, Delta Airlines Boeing B777 aircraft parked on the tarmac of the Lagos airport.

Also on September 19, 2010 another Nigerian man was found crushed in the wheel well of Arik flight which arrived from Johannesburg, South Africa. Closely following this was another incident in which a Nigerian was discovered in the undercarriage compartment of an Arik aircraft that returned from New York. With FAAN’s 1,400 security workforce and over 26 airports across the country, it is hoped that the Authority will step up the ante and do the needful to secure the nation’s airports against intruders.