Same Time, Same Place, Same Level – Chapter 14

Some of my gentle readers will remember well the times when airports were still places to visit, with no barbed wire and armed guards patrolling around. Try telling children who are only allowed to watch from behind thick glass windows how you had spent countless hours sitting on the grass in the shade of those huge wings, now and then even having a chance to chat with the pilots… Nowadays all kinds of crazy people seem to have all kinds of crazy reasons for wanting to attack airports and airplanes, with predictable consequences. Aviation fights back the best it can and so your freedom of movement is restricted (way beyond what would be normal from an operational point of view), they search you while they X-ray your bags, armored cars lurk behind fuel-browsers and there are soldiers in full battle dress, armed to the teeth, leaning on ticket counters. What is this world coming to security bollards?

The life of people responsible for airport security is far from easy. The very fact of countless terrorist incidents committed over countless numbers of years with never any long lasting victory for anybody is obviously not enough to stop those loonies and this in itself shows just how crazy an enemy aviation security experts have to face. One of them was once overheard decrying the good old times, when the most dangerous adversary had been the odd guy trying to blow up his beloved mother-in-law…

Security measures tend to differ from airport to airport and often there are a number of organizations responsible for various operational areas. Screening of passengers and luggage, guarding the perimeter fence, patrolling the departure hall or transit area all fall under the general heading of airport security, lending themselves to colorful local arrangements.

Though security is a dead serious matter, yet even there the craziest things can happen, even without the good offices of some obscure liberation “army”. The trouble is, by definition, security people have to act not only when something has happened, but also if they suspect something is about to happen or that something might happen. Air traffic control is rarely involved directly, mainly because would be terrorists have not yet realized the havoc they could create by closing down a busy control center. But a hijacked flight or security operations on the ground do create disruptions in the normal operation of ATC, so the following stories do have legitimate claim to being included here. Mind you, the stories told here happened decades before 9/11…

Armed and careless…

At this airport the perimeter guards had always been held in pretty low esteem, a result of a few funny characters having managed to crawl through the screening procedure, ending up being more a threat with their machine pistols to each other than to anyone trying to jump the fence from the outside. Added to this had been a bit of a drinking problem also, and on one occasion this had led to one of them falling asleep atop a switched on hot-plate, giving some unusual work to the fire brigade… On the whole, though, they did a pretty good job of keeping us safe.

These perimeter guards had their own radio net and hence their comings and goings were not a matter closely followed by the tower. As they could also tune into the tower’s ground control frequency, it was assumed they would call in when circumstances warranted. There was no such call, however, when controllers heard distant gunfire on this dark Saturday night.

The sounds seemed to come from pretty far away, though clearly from within the airport grounds itself. The Tower Manual had precious little to offer by way of advice as to what one should do if a local shoot-up were to break out. Had the controllers known that the guards were shooting at each other, their confusion would have no doubt only increased. As it was, however, they did the only sensible thing, halting all movements both on the ground and in the air, at the same time calling the airport supervisor for further instructions. This general state of siege lasted for the better part of an hour, at the end of which one dead, one seriously injured and a thoroughly shaken guard were brought in from one of the farthest sentry posts, together with a jeep which appeared to have some bullet holes in its metal. Normal operations were resumed once a careful search revealed that there were neither terrorists, nor extra-terrestrials about.

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