Broken code – the failure of a state air security initiative

The state of Israel surrendered to an opposition led by pilots organisations that was against the Code Positive system designed to let its security authorities know when an aircraft heading towards Ben Gurion airport was controlled by terrorists.

The surrender raises a big question about the power of a country to implement measures that are not comfortable to some while they are raising the security level of many.

The highly classified Code Positive system was developed by Elbit Systems and was designed to allow the Israeli ATC to verify that an aircraft heading for Israel was not hostile.

The plan was to give special cards to all pilots that regularly fly to Israel. The smart cards are capable of verifying a pilot’s identity. A special control centre was set up to receive the output of the system and to clear each aircraft.

Five airlines agreed to take part in the pilot – US Airways, Delta, Continental, Air Canada and Ethiopian.

The opposition to the use of the Code Positive system has been very wide. The European Commission, the International Air Transport Association (IATA) and the International Federation of Air Line Pilots’ Associations (IFALPA) voiced concerns.

These organisations claimed that the system might create discriminatory disadvantages and impediments to the development of air services to Israel, without providing a satisfactory increase in the level of security.

Sources in Israel said that the system will eventually be shelved.

The five airlines continued to use the Code Positive on some of their flights but recently stopped doing so after it became clear that the programme was actually scrapped and buried.

Views on the issue are split. Some say that the programme could not be implemented full scale. Others say that a country is sovereign to implement security measures of any kind.

The fact is that the government was not determined enough and therefore lost the battle. Only the future will show if that was a mistake.

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