Co-operation with civil authorities to safeguard national internal security within own borders

‘A’ Company is a four platoon and Headquarters infantry company-sized element within the 1st Regiment and it is located in the Malta International Airport (MIA)with the mission of combining measures, both human and material to safeguard civil aviation against acts of unlawful interference.

The typical day includes the hustle and bustle of any average airport, particularly hubs like ours that serve as mandatory stops for airlines travelling far, to and from different continents over long hauls. MIA bears in mind the declared runway capacity (increased by 17%) to 35 movements per hour.

The threat to airport security can take various forms such as hijacks with passengers and crews held hostage. Thus, airports are targets for terrorists or criminals. Any irregular or suspicious activity (like unattended luggage) may result in innocent people being injured or killed.

Security is a team approach, and soldiers from ‘A’ Company, though their personnel are very familiar with airport activity, cannot and are not always present. That is why they work hand in hand with other government law enforcement agencies such as Customs, Police Immigration, Ministry of the Interior airport security, the Departament of Civil Aviation, and needless to say with the terminal and airlines’ management.

For political terrorism, airports are targets for bomb threats, hijacking, violent attacks, theft and contraband. Within the airport itself, aircraft and large crowds (as hostages or cover) are targets.

The Security rules governing airport security operations are those laid out in the Civil Aviation Security Act. The present system is critical but helps to control access to aircraft and secure areas. Access pass violations are tackled using the principle of reporting, knowing to who, how and following up the same report.

Night activity is double trouble because of the obvious lack of light. Unusual activity is always reported: unattended baggage, open doors and gates, or malfunctioning area lighting.

‘A’ Company soldiers are responsible for the access control and manning of all the perimeter fence gate access points and those within the terminal. Some of these points also have representatives from Customs or MIA security on site. Points within the terminal include the Departures, Transit and Arrivals’ lounges’ access points.

The soldiers are responsible for implementing access control regulations, issuing of temporary visitors’ passes, escort duties, aircraft and vehicle screening, aerodrome driving safety, VVIP protection and escorts to valuables.

The airport has three main areas which are the landside, the air terminal, and the airside operations’ area (AOA). The landside is deemed as being that outside the terminal building and outside the perimeter fence. This is Police responsibility with most common problems being traffic and passengers, thefts from cars, grass fires and illegal bird hunting or trapping near he perimeter fence (since the aerodrome is a bird sanctuary by law). The most hot and objectionable items would be weapons and explosives. People loitering is most suspicious as are abandoned goods. This area is particularly vulnerable at night

The air terminal has a shared security responsibility with the MIA management’s terminal security. This is a very busy area with large crowds and a constant hectic pace of activity. Both security teams man and operate a joint security surveillance control room that relays information and communications to its personnel on the ground (particularly in so far as fire and attack/alert alarms are concerned). Consequently, this is the most demanding area for security because of its access to aircraft, poses itself as vulnerable target for terrorism and opportunity to steel valuable items. It is dangerous area for bomb plants in stairwells, toilets, stores and lockers. Here the access pass system helps inidentifying people who should not be in certain restricted areas. Soldiers are constantly on the lookout for unattended packages and baggage, unusual activity, inconsistent dress or unmatched uniforms, people loitering or anyone creating disturbance.

The AOA is the most dangerous because of the aircraft, vehicles, fuel and people that move therein. It is ‘A’ Company’s largest area of responsibility which it aims to keep safe at all times. The AOA is anywhere within the perimeter fence and this is the area where aircraft manoeuvre or park. From operations’ and security standpoints it is the most critical area. It poses the best access for hijackers and terrorists to aircraft for people who avoid screening with the organised confusion around the aircraft. This is due to time pressure to meet flight schedules. Such access may come through catering, cleaning or fuel services.

Unauthorised vehicles are kept off the airfield, especially if their drivers have no airfield driving license as this would otherwise constitute a hazard to aircraft safety though no criminal intent exists. On field problems the soldiers often tackle include foreign objects such as animals (stray cats and dogs), boxes or parts on runways or aprons, unusual baggage, securing doors and gates propped/forced open, holes in the perimeter fence, areas overgrown with trees and shrubs, and problems with locks.

Other suspicious activity includes photography in restricted areas or irrational behaviour. The access pass system is the heart of the airport security programme. Soldiers from ‘A’ Company ensure that it works if the airport employees respect it. They otherwise challenge those who do not. All army personnel are trained to respond quickly, know the procedures for reporting, know who to report to and how. All know not to touch abandoned packages and not to interfere with other agencies’ operations. Many incidents of suspicious nature are but harmless (catering truck open for example) but it takes one real threat to go unnoticed or reported to cause a tragedy.

‘A’ Company personnel have to daily tackle employee apathy attitudes, being on the watch and alert for anything. Personnel are qualified in the use of side-arms and rifles with a view of protecting the establishment and any personnel therein. The use of 2-way radio is a most valuable asset along with the rapid deployment of personnel by using vehicles and regular situation contrasting drills.

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Last Updated: July 2007